Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 11:55 GMT

Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Syria

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 29 April 2013
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Syria, 29 April 2013, 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.
Number of IDPsAt least 3,000,000
Percentage of total populationAt least 14.2%
Start of displacement situation1967
Peak number of IDPs (year)3,000,000 (2012)
New displacement in 20122,400,000 reported
Causes of displacementx International armed conflict
✓ Internal armed conflict
✓ Deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement
✓ Communal violence
x Criminal violence
✓ Political violence
Human development index116

Internal displacement spiralled in Syria during 2012. The number of IDPs increased from just over 150,000 newly displaced at the beginning of the year, to 2.4 million by the end of 2012. This lead to a total of at least three million people displaced from their homes, a five-fold increase as compared to 2011.

Before the start of the civil unrest against the government of Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, there were already more than 450,000 people internally displaced in the country as a result of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights in 1967, Kurdish forced evictions in the 1970s and the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1981.

By the summer of 2012, the anti-government protests had escalated into a full-blown civil war. By then defecting elements of the Syrian army and opposition members had organised into armed groups loosely allied under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The conflict moved from rural towns and the cities of Homs and Hama into Damascus and Aleppo, disrupting the country's economy and displacing more than 1.2 million people in just a few weeks in July. The heaviest fighting took place in populated areas along a north-south axis from Aleppo through Hama, Homs and Damascus to Dara'a, but the whole country has been affected by the conflict and the internal displacement it has caused.

Most Syrians who fled their homes have sought safety with relatives, friends and host communities, paying rent as and when they can afford to do so. Many hosting areas have seen their populations explode, with relatively small cities such as Ar-Raqqah and An-Nabbaq suddenly hosting hundreds of thousands of IDPs. Families without financial means or those unable to reach relatives resorted to taking refuge in public spaces such as mosques, universities, municipal parks and schools. Back in September when the academic year resumed, the government forcibly expelled a significant number of IDPs sheltering in schools without offering them alternative solutions. These IDPs found themselves forced into secondary displacement.

Multiple displacements have been a striking feature of the crisis in Syria as new fronts in the conflict open up. There has been a close correlation between the conflict and displacement, in which people fleeing the fighting took refuge in calmer neighbourhoods or cities only to find that these areas had become hotspots for escalating protest and repression. In Damascus, Douma was emptied of its inhabitants after protests in July, and IDPs fled to Harasta before insecurity forced them to move on again, this time south to Jaramanah, Babila and Sayeda Zeinab. Tellingly, these neighbourhoods also became centres of resistance. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees have also been affected. Some became internally displaced when government forces attacked their UNRWA-run camps in pursuit of Syrian IDPs who had sought refuge there.

Two years of intensifying conflict have taken their toll on Syria's economy, with the price of bread multiplying many times over from $0.20 at the onset of the crisis to as much as $3.50 in some parts of the country. The average salary in 2011 was no more than $300 a month. Livelihoods have become a major concern affecting both IDPs and host communities across the whole country.

The government has recognised some humanitarian needs and has negotiated with OCHA and the Syrian Humanitarian and Aid Response Plan (SHARP). The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) has been at the forefront of the response, distributing both food and non-food items throughout the country including, albeit to a lesser extent, to the Kurdish and FSA-controlled areas. Despite its best efforts, the scale of the crisis rapidly surpassed SARC's capacity to respond, and its president, Dr Abdul Rahman al-Attar, admitted in September that the organisation had not been able to reach as many as two-thirds of IDPs.

Syrian civil society has also tried to assist the population in need, smuggling in medicine, food, fuel and rent assistance, particularly from Lebanon and Turkey. The impact, however, has been limited by contributors' own scarce resources. The international community, which increased its humanitarian funding request from $180 million to $480 million, has faced operational limitations caused by visa restrictions, security issues and a shortage of funds. Only 45 per cent of the funding pledged had been received as of the end of the year. WFP expressed concern, stating it could not provide enough food aid in Syria at a time when the international community was struggling to deliver winter assistance to those in need.

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