The human face of 5 years of conflict in Syria

14 Mar 2016   |   Blog   |   Syria   |   Emergency Relief

Tags:  Refugees, Syria   |   No comments

How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed.” - Pope Francis

On 15 March 2016 we mark the 5th anniversary of the escalation of violence in Syria since the start of the civil war. The United Nations has described the situation as the largest humanitarian crisis in recent years. After five years:

  • 250,000 people have died
  • 12.2 million people have been forced from their homes
  • More than 75% of Syrians now live in poverty, and
  • 13.5 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

As a result of the conflict, at least 4 million people had fled the country, many to the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. There are also millions of internally displaced families within Syria.

With such huge figures, the reality of the crisis can sometimes seem hard to truly comprehend. For us at Caritas, the stories we hear from people living through the conflict often grip our hearts and compel us to keep delivering critical assistance to communities who keep longing for peace.

Voices of Syrian refugees


Ayman's family


"War and peace in Syria is certainly in the hands of the great powers. Nevertheless, we all can contribute to achieving peace here. First, we must sincerely desire peace and deeply believe that peace is possible. To do that, we must listen to the Syrian people who just want to live in peace.” - Bishop Audo of Aleppo, President of Caritas Syria


Before the war, Rose lived in Damascus with her husband and three sons. The war truly came home to them when her brother was killed by a bomb. Then, on a journey back to their home to collect warm clothing, her husband was also killed.

"He went once, and managed to get a few bags. He was scared but he wanted to go again to get more. He promised it would be the last time…

"I had thought that my brother’s death would be my biggest crisis, but this was even greater. When my brother died, I felt that time stopped. But when I lost my husband, I was not able to collapse. I was responsible for my children." Read Rose’ story »


Ayman is near-blind, and struggling to access health services, his eyesight is getting worse. While working selling corn on the cob from a street stall in Tripoli, he was struck by the debris of a car bomb. Because of the injuries he suffered, he’s since been unable to work.

"If I live, I live for my daughters. I try to give them everything I can, although I cannot provide for them, I am trying my best." Read Ayman’s story »


Five months pregnant, Dima and her husband fled from their flat in Aleppo when a bomb hit their building and she felt mortar falling around her. Now, four months later, she is nearly full-term.

"I’m about to give birth for the first time and my mum can’t come, I’m far from home and everything that’s familiar… I just want to live in peace and to have a place to put the baby.” Read Dima’s story »

Helping refugees with key areas of support

As the crisis in the Middle East continues to grow, here are just a few of the ways Caritas is helping refugees with key issues they face.

Alleviating immediate needs

As the crisis becomes protracted, families struggle more and more to obtain basic items such as food, hygiene supplies and fuel. This is worsened by the lack of jobs available in Syria and its neighbouring countries, as well as a shortage of supplies. In addition during winter, families desperately need warm clothing and blankets to get them through the freezing temperatures.

Since the beginning of the crisis, local Caritas organisations on the ground, supported by Caritas Australia, have been providing these basic necessities to refugee families. Learn more on our Middle East Crisis page »

Attending to health

Before the war, the health system in Syria was well regarded as one of the best in the region. As the conflict escalated, families have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries and the health services of these countries have struggled to support the large numbers of people. With the conflict persisting for such a long time, the health needs of refugee families include treating wounds from conflict, treating conditions from poor living conditions, medication for chronic conditions, and health check-ups for children and pregnant women.

Caritas organisations in Lebanon and Jordan have been helping provide health services for vulnerable refugee families – through running medical clinics, maternal and child healthcare services and mobile health units. Read more »

Addressing trauma

In addition to the physical effects of conflict, refugees have experienced the trauma of war, many having lost loved ones or witnessed bombings. The loss of stability and support networks has also had an immense impact on their lives, especially for children. In one Caritas program, children were encouraged to express their fears through drawings – and all the drawings were of the war.

An innovative program in Lebanon and Syria, supported by Caritas Australia, is building hope and turning the lives of children around. Through films and puppet theatre, Syrian children learn to cope with their traumatic experiences in positive ways. Read more »

Supporting education

Suzy McIntyre, Caritas Australia’s Humanitarian Program Coordinator shares: “When I meet a family, I always ask them what their hopes are for the future, and the mother always says, “A good education and good outcomes for my children”.”

Two million of the refugees are children, and the majority of them are not in the classroom. There are many reasons for this – sometimes if they’ve missed out on a few years, it can be difficult to catch up. Other times, the cost of schooling, or even transportation to school is too much. This situation will have longer term consequences as well – will the next generation have the skills needed to rebuild a country?

Caritas has been supporting the schooling requirements of refugee children by assisting with school and transport fees. Further education support, such as providing catch-up programs for children who have missed out on years of school, are also planned.

Protecting vulnerable women

With many families being torn apart by the war, it’s estimated that more than half of the refugees in some of the neighbouring countries are women and children. This means that there is a risk of vulnerable women experiencing sexual and gender based violence, as they live in difficult situations.

Caritas organisations run programs which help identify women who may be victims of violence, and provide safe shelter, legal assistance and psycho social support to them. Find out more »

What you can do

"I ask for the provision of humanitarian aid for the displaced and refugees, and Syrians who have lost their homes, showing in the first place the good of each human person and guarding their dignity.”- Pope Francis

Syrian woman


Support families who have fled the Syrian conflict by donating to Caritas Australia’s Middle East Appeal.

Donate now »

Prayer for Peace and Mercy in Syria


Stand in solidarity with people affected by the crisis in Syria and offer a special prayer of peace and mercy.

Download prayer »

Syrian children's drawings


Australian musician Missy Higgins’ newest song, ‘Oh Canada’ is about 3 year old Alan Kurdi and his family’s plight for sanctuary.

Find out more about the song and share it with your friends and family »

Mother and child


Our Facebook photo gallery shares the stories and experiences of people affected by the crisis in Syria.

Share the gallery with your friends and family »

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