Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2017, 12:58 GMT

Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Syria

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 19 April 2012
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Syria, 19 April 2012, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Quick facts
Number of IDPsAt least 589,000
Percentage of total populationAt least 2.8%
Start of current displacement situation1967
Peak number of IDPs (Year)589,000 (2011)
New displacementAt least 156,000
Causes of displacementArmed conflict, deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement, generalised violence, human rights violations
Human development index111

2011 witnessed the most profound social upheaval in Syria since the instability of the 1960s that brought the Assad family to power in 1970. The government responded to a wave of social unrest which started in March, first by proposing very limited reforms and then by perpetrating indiscriminate violence against its civilian population. Over 5,000 people were killed and 20,000 arrested.

From March onwards, people across the country were forced to flee in the face of the government's repressive response. Overall, at least 156,000 people were displaced during the year. Most cases were temporary, with people fleeing their villages and cities before or during an attack and returning after government forces left. However, some people's homes and property were destroyed by heavy weaponry, and they were forced into lengthier displacement. The largest waves of displacement took place between June and September when nearly 70,000 people left Ma'arat al-Numaan, 45,000 fled Homs, and 41,000 sought safety away from Jisr el-Soghour.

There are four distinct groups of IDPs in Syria. Apart from those displaced by the repression of protests in 2011, three other groups have faced protracted internal displacement. In 1982, following the seizure of Hama by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, the army bombarded the city, killing about 20,000 inhabitants and displacing a large number. There is little information on the whereabouts of those people whose homes were demolished or those who have remained displaced out of fear of persecution.

In the 1970s, an unknown number of Kurdish people were displaced from the north-eastern province of Al-Jazeera, after the government deprived most of them of their citizenship; they have remained in protracted displacement. Following the government's attempt to create an "Arab belt" without Kurdish residents along the Turkish border, up to 60,000 Kurds reportedly left, voluntarily or otherwise, to cities of the north such as Aleppo and Hasaka.

The largest group of IDPs in Syria were displaced from the Golan Heights by the Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War of 1967. The government estimated in 2007 that the people originally displaced and their descendants numbered 433,000 people. They have largely integrated in their current places of residence, principally in the provinces of Al-Suwayda and Damascus in the south of the country. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, a decision not recognised by the international community, and peace talks have remained stalled.

All of the IDPs in Syria, except those from the Golan Heights, have been displaced by the government's policies and military actions against its own people. It has accordingly been difficult to get information on their situation. It has also been impossible in most cases for the international community to access victims and provide them with emergency assistance. As for the older cases, the government has so far failed to recognise that its actions have caused displacement, and it is not foreseeable that these IDPs will achieve durable solutions.

It remained doubtful in 2011 whether the government was genuinely willing to integrate its Kurdish population and resolve the situations of those it forcibly displaced in the 1970s. After the 2011 protests began, President Bashar al-Assad announced reforms including the end of emergency laws and the single party policy. In April he announced that Syrian citizenship would be reinstated to the majority of the 300,000 stateless Kurds, but the implementation of these reforms remained unclear at the end of the year.

The determination of protesters in the face of brutal repression increasingly forced the international community to react. OHCHR established a fact-finding mission to Syria in April, but it was not granted access. In August, when the government fired on Palestinian refugees in Al-Ramel camp and forced them to flee, UNRWA condemned the bombardment and called for immediate access to the people newly displaced.

As the year progressed, Syrian citizens' aspirations for greater freedom were increasingly being politicised as governments in the region and worldwide responded according to their diverse strategic interests. In October, China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution on Syria. However, individual states such as Turkey denounced the repression of civilians, while Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia withdrew their ambassadors. The League of Arab States did not respond until some of its Persian Gulf members, principally Qatar and Saudi Arabia, criticised the military repression. The League subsequently suspended Syria's participation. In late December, Syria allowed the League to send a monitoring team; their conclusions acknowledged human rights violations and called for an end to the violence against the civilian population.

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