Syria IDP Figures Analysis
There were at least 6.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Syria as of 31 December 2015.*
IDMC’s figure is based on data provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which estimated that at least 6.6 million people were internally displaced inside Syria, with over 1.3 million displaced in 2015 alone (OCHA, December 2015). OCHA explains the decrease from its estimate of 7.6 million IDPs by stating that the majority of the displacements in 2015 are attributable to repeated displacement of people who had already fled their homes or who had crossed international borders in order to seek refuge. Accounting for people who have fled across international borders, IDMC estimates that the current number of IDPs represents 40 per cent of the people still in Syria. With more than 4.6 million Syrians who have fled the country to seek refuge abroad, this means that overall 50 percent have had to flee their homes.
OCHA’s estimates are based on information gathered from the Syrian authorities, in particular the Syrian Red Crescent, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian reform, the Ministry of Local Administration, as well as various UN agencies such as UNRWA, UNHCR, and WFP. In opposition-controlled areas, OCHA has had to also rely on NGOs active in these areas and on local authorities. As a result, data collection and reporting on displacement have relied upon and are subject to the influence of parties to the conflict, including some that have played a central role in causing displacement (Sparrow, 1 February 2016). In some opposition-held areas, displacement estimates have been exaggerated to the point where the number of reported IDPs was larger than the pre-conflict population.
The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA, 9 January 2015) estimates that out of the 560,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Syria, 480,000 remained on the territory and 280,000 were internally displaced as of December 2015 (UNRWA 2016). This figure is based on UNRWA’s registration figures of its population of concern.
Data gathering in Syria has also been consistently complicated by the inability to access to certain areas, including besieged cities. Lack of data collection in such areas can potentially result in an under-reporting of displacement. To give a sense of the potential magnitude: there were an estimated 4.5 million Syrians in need in out-of-reach areas, and about 400,000 in besieged cities (OCHA 27 October 2015). The governorates of Ar-Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor in the north east of the country have been particularly difficult to access given the presence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
IDMC’s displacement figures are also qualified by the fact that the sources cited above have used different methodologies to estimate the number of IDPs in various locations. One example of a definitional challenge is represented by the difficulty of accounting for people in besieged cities whose homes have been destroyed but who are not able to flee.
Monitoring of internal displacement in Syria has been further hampered by the volatility of the frontlines and the intensity of the conflict. The scale and nature of displacement have been additional challenges: not only have they significantly affected all governorates of Syria, but people have also been displaced multiple times over the past four years. Keeping track of secondary and tertiary displacement, as well as the cross-border flight of Syrian IDPs, is necessary to avoid double- or triple-counting the same displaced person. The failure to identify people who have been displaced multiple times as well as IDPs who have fled across international borders can result in an overestimation of the magnitude of displacement.