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AGENZIA ITALIANA PER LA COOPERAZIONE ALLO SVILUPPO  - Libano e Siria - Sede di Beirut | – ITALIAN AGENCY FOR DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION - Lebanon and Syria - Beirut Office Ambasciata d'Italia a Beirut European Union Presidency of the Council of Ministers - Lebanon

Syrian crisis, evolution and humanitarian crisis

During the first months of 2015 the war in Syria has entered its fifth year. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights states that the war has caused around 200,000 direct victims and another 200,000 have died due to the inaccessibility to medical care or medicines. Intense conflicts continue in Syria and political solutions do not seem underway in the short term. 12.2 million persons are in conditions of extreme vulnerability and need humanitarian assistance in Syria, among whom 5.6 million are children. Practically half of the Syrian population have left their homes: 76 million are displaced, of whom more than 4 million have sought refuge in Syria’s neighboring countries – 3.9 million are registered at the UNHCR assistance program – and only 218,000 have been able to present an asylum request in Europe.

The ongoing war in Syria has affected everyone indiscriminately and has had a profound effect on the Syrian social strata: the crisis has affected the poor of urban and rural areas, without sparing the urban middle class, completely distorting the lives of families of workers, teachers and employees who overnight found themselves forced to abandon their homes and lose all their belongings. "Syria has entered the age of darkness, literally and metaphorically" commented the former British Foreign Minister David Miliband, following a recent analysis of satellite images showing that the number of visible lights during the night in Syria has decreased in recent years by 83%, reaching peaks of 97% in Aleppo.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria could possibly be divided in four distinct moments to date.

A first period, between the spring of 2011 and mid 2012, whereby the street protests moved on to open conflict, thus starting the displacement of people within Syria, from the areas initially affected by the conflict towards areas considered more peaceful .

A second period, more or less between mid 2012 to the end of 2013, in which, with the expansion and intensification of the conflict, many of the internally displaced persons started to reach Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, thus acquiring the status of refugees. The wave of refugees and internally displaced persons has been such so as to have determined the highest displacement of populations since World War II.

In the third period, which started indicatively in January 2014, the governments of the host countries began to strongly denounce to the international community the great social and economic challenges that the presence of the refugees determined. The high number of Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries has had a strong impact on the already delicate demographic balance of the region, in terms of infrastructure and public services. Added to this are the economic and social costs related to the competition on the labor market created by the low cost Syrian labor force and the substantial increase in the cost of living. These factors have and are fueling a growing unease between the hosting and refugee communities. This is especially true in Lebanon, where the crisis acquires a particularly destabilizing effect on the already fragile balance on which the delicate political- religious structure of the country is based.

We can think of a fourth period, starting roughly around the second half of 2014, characterized by a gradual closure of the borders and, consequently, by a decrease of the number of entrances in Lebanon and Jordan. Whilst in Jordan and Lebanon the number of refugees has thus stabilized, inevitably the number of displaced persons within Syria and the number of refugees on Turkish territory are increasing, further aggravating the complexity and severity of a humanitarian crisis without precedents. According to OCHA, about 9,500 Syrians become displaced every day, at an average rate of one family per minute. Only during the months of July and August 2014, it is estimated that about 600,000 people were displaced as a result of the fighting against the "Islamic State", to which must be added the families returning to Syria (about 100,000 people) due to the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and Arsal, in Lebanon. More than half of the internally displaced population is constituted by children, about 4.3 million of them are in dire need of food, shelter, medicine and psychological support. The children have, and still are witnessing experiences of extreme violence: more than 10,000 young lives have been lost as a direct result of the conflict.

The Palestinians residing in Syria are particularly affected by the conflict: approximately 50% of the 540,000 Palestinians registered at UNRWA are displaced whilst 79.4% are in dire need. Of particular concern is the situation of about 18,000 Palestinian refugees resident in the camp of Yarmouk (the main Palestinian refugee camp in Syria), where UNRWA has recently been able to reinstate some food and medical aid support, considering that until July of last year the camp was inaccessible due to the conflict.

Since the end of 2012 until now, Italy has contributed to the Syrian crisis response through a disbursed budget of about 66 million euros (plus 18 million to be allocated), of which 37 million were donated in 2014. Such resources have allowed the implementation of more than 100 initiatives addressed to the distribution of primary goods, including activities of child protection and food assistance. Stabilization activities have also been implemented through the carrying out of works in the municipalities affected by the large flow of refugees. The activities have also included the rehabilitation of schools and public services, therestoration of road conditions, waste management and improvedaccess to drinking water.