14 March 2014 |

With 1 family displaced every 60 seconds in Syria, there’s no more time for diplomatic delay

Each day, 9,500 civilians are forced to flee their homes in Syria – that’s one family every minute.* Yet three years after Syria’s brutal armed conflict began, the international community is still failing to bring an end to a crisis which has displaced a staggering 6.5 million people inside the country. IDMC’s Middle East Analyst Guillaume Charron reflects on the international response to date as IDMC joins the #WithSyria campaign, calling on world leaders not to let the people of Syria lose another year to bloodshed and suffering.


The crisis in Syria reaches a three year milestone on 15 March - a terrible anniversary. There are now over 9 million people inside Syria who urgently need assistance, including some 6.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs).

As the analyst for the region I may have been pessimistic from the start about how the conflict would unfold, given the Syrian authorities’ historically dreadful record of human rights abuses. Sadly, this has not been disproved.

Since the beginning of the conflict, peaceful civilian protesters have been targeted by the Syrian authorities, suffering abuses which include kidnapping, rape and torture. As the violence escalated into civil war, all sides - including the armed opposition - have reportedly been responsible for abuses against the civilian population, who continue to bear the brunt of the crisis.

For many Syrians, leaving their homes in search of safer areas was at first a temporary measure, particularly in the first year. However, as the targeting of civilians and attacks against cities continued and increased, with large concentrations of IDPs being targeted, displacement became a fact of life for millions of Syrians across the country. As the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs commented in July 2013, “the indiscriminate use of weapons, aerial bombardments and ground attacks on civilian locations” are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions which lead to forced displacement.

All international talk, but no action

Political discussions around the Syria crisis abound with expert investigations, high-level reports, a UN Presidential Statements and a Security Council resolution all so far failing to result in any real solutions. Over the last three years, the UN Human Rights Council, Security Council, General Assembly along with key regional actors such as the Friends of Syria and the Arab League have raised a litany of issues. Yet none has managed to mitigate the increasing hardship faced by IDPs, let alone stem Syria’s ever worsening displacement crisis.

Last month, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for unhindered humanitarian access in Syria, notably stating explicitly that this includes ‘across conflict lines and across borders.’ As Ban Ki-moon himself stated, it is, however, deeply worrying that such an agreement was needed in the first place. The resolution reiterates the basic principles of humanitarian access, which are already enshrined in international law, and are clearly applicable in Syria. Indeed, before the vote on the resolution, NRC’s Secretary General Jan Egeland had already observed that, "the conflict in Syria has put back the clock on humanitarian progress by decades."

International deadlock has hindered humanitarian response

With the international community in deadlock, humanitarian actors in the region have struggled to gain access to 9 million desperate and vulnerable people. The UN estimates that more than 240,000 live in besieged areas that cannot be reached by humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian agencies based in Syria and their partners struggle to provide assistance across battle lines to areas outside Damascus’s control. There is an estimated 3 million IDPs out of reach, with people lacking access to basic services, drinking water, food, and medicine. Yet the Syrian government will not allow impartial aid agencies to provide life-saving aid using more direct routes, such as from neighbouring countries, claiming that these actions constitute a violation of Syrian sovereignty.

Access to IDPs and the communities hosting them is also challenged by visa restrictions, bureaucratic impediments and security concerns. Today, those trying to help civilians on the ground face grave threats to their own safety. Médecins-Sans-Frontières (MSF) highlighted the serious challenges to providing life-saving assistance in a recent report, stating that ‘doctors are hunted down.’ The ICRC expressed similar concerns, noting that humanitarian convoys face attacks.

The losers of this conflict are Syrian civilians, no matter who wins

Despite the numerous international statements, reports and resolutions, the one thing we have not heard enough about is the principle of humanity: the obligation that all sides in a conflict must do all they can to help the civilian victims. Yet this ultimately very basic, moral, human, and grounded obligation is becoming lost in this crisis by those fighting on all sides as according to an IDMC analysis, an average of 9,500 people are internally displaced in Syria every day.

The human cost of political procrastination is far too high. As the talks go on and political deadlock persists, the Syrian people continue to suffer.  

As the crisis in Syria passes the three-year milestone, a strong and action-oriented political solution is needed now more than ever. The men, women and children of Syria have a right to assistance, humanitarian actors must be allowed to access people in need and provide aid to the millions who are suffering. Greater public pressure in support of Syrian civilians can help – it’s time to ask, how far are we willing to stand #WithSyria?

Join IDMC and its partners in support of Syrian civilians and help raise awareness of the need for humanitarian access to relieve their plight. Visit the #LetUsThrough campaign and #WithSyria campaign, and share this blog with your social media channels using #WithSyria.

For more information, see IDMC’s page for Syria.


*Average family size in Syria is 6.2 people. Around 6.59 people are forced to flee every minute in Syria.

Next: Can the UN Human Rights Council get Sri Lanka to take its commitments to its citizens seriously?
Previous: Girl, disrupted: challenges for internally displaced girls worldwide