|Population||UN Population Division (as of 2016)|
|Number of IDPs (Conflict and violence)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|New displacements (Conflict and violence)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|Refugees||UNHCR (as of 2015)|
|Displacement type||New Displacement (Flow)||IDPs (Stock)|
|Geographical disaggregation||Subnational - Admin 1||Subnational - Admin 1|
|Frequency of reporting||Other||Once a year|
|Disaggregation on sex||No||No|
|Disaggregation on age||No||No|
|Data triangulation||No Triangulation||Some Local Triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No|
|Data on returns||Partially||No|
|Data on local integration||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No|
IDMC’s primary sources for its Syria estimate are OCHA and, for incidents of new displacement, flash updates compiled by UNHCR. IDMC has also included in its figures a caseload of Syrians considered by certain agencies as refugees, as they are at the Berm, an area considered to be between the official borders of Syria and Jordan.Download extended figures analysis (PDF, 49 KB)
Syria is now in its sixth year of an armed conflict and protection crisis with no end in sight. With four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council actively engaged in hostilities, over half of the country’s pre-war population have been forced to flee their homes since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011, amounting to one of the largest displacement crises since World War Two.
Once a stable middle-income country that hosted refugees from the region, Syria underwent rapid economic liberalisation characterised by nepotism and cutbacks in state subsidies. Exacerbated by years of drought, these problems led to an inexorable rise in poverty that marginalised large parts of the population and deepened tensions between the population and the corrupt political system.
Conflict-related displacement in Syria began after a government crackdown on peaceful protests in the southern city of Dara’a in March 2011, sparked by the authorities’ arrest and mistreatment of children who had called for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad. After the Syrian military laid siege to Dara’a and violently repressed increasingly large demonstrations, several army officers defected and formed the Free Syrian Army in July 2011.
From that point, the civilian uprising transformed into an armed rebellion and then into full-scale civil war. Since then, the fluidity of the multiple front lines between foreign-backed government forces and dozens of splintering armed groups, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front, and violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated against civilians by all parties to the conflict have driven millions of people to flee within and beyond Syria’s borders.
2016 brought no respite for civilians, who continued to bear the brunt of extreme violence committed by all parties and fled their homes across the country, with many of them displaced more than once to steadily diminishing areas of safety. The hostilities were relentless throughout the year and included deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as schools and healthcare facilities. In sieges such as the one in eastern Aleppo, people were deliberately deprived of aid and access to basic services such as food, water and medical care. A 2016 case study on displacement from the city of Hasakeh found that fear of shelling was the primary reason for people to flee, followed by reduced access to food.
The negotiation of two separate cessation of hostilities agreements by the United States and Russia in February and September 2016 brought about temporary lulls in fighting and declines in displacement, but hostilities and their impact on the civilian population flared again after each agreement.
For example, in eastern Aleppo, the ceasefires did not prevent hostilities from resuming in December, with staggering consequences for the civilian population. Intense fighting in the city forced nearly 160,000 people to flee from their homes and caused widespread damage to housing and infrastructure.
Offensives against ISIL took place on various fronts in 2016. Turkish forces crossed into Syria to launch an operation with allied local forces in August, and the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces went on the attack in the Raqqa governorate in November. Both campaigns caused waves of displacement across northern Syria. Between 35,000 and 40,000 people were displaced in the north of Raqqa, most for short periods of time.
Internal displacement patterns are generally influenced by a variety of factors, such as family ties and access to shelter, basic services, humanitarian assistance and apparent safety. In Syria, many people are forced to flee at short notice and repeatedly over time, and they may face protracted periods of displacement, with family separation as a possible consequence.
Shifting front lines and subsequent changes to the security environment have also forced people to move a second, third or fourth time, with IDPs leaving shelters to return home during lulls in violence, only to flee again when fighting re-escalates. Multiple displacement has become the norm, with IDPs in Syria compelled to flee as many as 25 times because a single move could not protect them from constantly shifting front lines and the breakdown of basic services.
Combined with difficulties in accessing cash or food and other essential items, poor conditions in shelters such as overcrowding and a lack of water and sanitation facilities are also key factors in the decision to flee repeatedly. A cyclical pattern of displacement has been observed, eroding personal resources and coping mechanisms as IDPs gradually run out of options to meet their basic needs and become almost entirely dependent on aid.
More than a million people have sought refuge in “last resort” IDP sites which do not provide adequate living conditions, such as informal settlements, collective centres and makeshift housing. Fifty-seven per cent of collective centres do not have sufficient water, 50 per cent lack sufficient sanitation facilities, and 54 per cent are overcrowded.
As of December 2016, an estimated 4.9 million people were trapped in hard-to-reach locations, including 0.97 million people in besieged areas. In addition to food insecurity, civilians faced deliberate blockades on medical evacuations, limited access to services and supplies, and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. Humanitarian agencies’ access to these locations remained sporadic.
With the effective closure of Syria’s international borders in 2016, people encountered increasing barriers to seeking asylum abroad. Approximately 330,000 internally displaced people are currently living in camps and informal settlements along the Turkish border in Northern Syria.
Syria has been described as the largest protection crisis of our time, with repeated breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law by all parties to the conflict. Proximity to armed hostilities, increased poverty, family separation and lack of civil documentation have been identified as critical factors that increase protection risks and the vulnerability of people in Syria. Internally displaced people, particularly those living in collective centres and other sites for IDPs, face heightened protection risks.
Given the restrictions on movement and lack of access to humanitarian aid, civilians living in hard-to-reach places and besieged areas are vulnerable to food insecurity, malnutrition, and waterborne and communicable diseases. Vulnerable groups such as older people or people with disabilities are particularly at risk of social exclusion, poverty and violence due to limited mobility, discrimination and a lack of suitable services. Palestinian refugees also face extreme vulnerabilities. Of the 450,000 Palestinian refugees remaining in Syria, 280,000 have been displaced. Overall, 95 per cent are dependent on assistance from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to survive.
Syria: Forsaken IDPs adrift inside a fragmenting state, October 2014
Syrian Arab Republic 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, December 2016
UN Security Council Resolution 2332, December 2016