The conflict in Syria which began in March 2011 is now into its eighth year. Altogether it has displaced more than 12 million people. That number includes at least 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians, as well as over 5 million refugees to other places – most of them to the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.
Well over 470,000 Syrians have died as a result of the conflict and two-thirds of the Syrian population is in need of assistance. Syria’s development has regressed by almost four decades. Four out of five Syrians now live in poverty. Two in three people no longer have access to safe water. Almost 13 million people lack adequate healthcare and 7 million cannot meet their basic food requirements. Life expectancy has dropped by more than 20 years.
The Syrian civil war is the cause of one of the world’s largest humanitarian disasters. It has exposed civilians to indiscriminate and horrific acts of violence. There are reports of disappearances, forcible displacement, rape and sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers, chemical attacks, summary executions and deliberate shelling of civilian targets.
Notwithstanding the risks to their lives, many thousands of Syrians have continued to promote peace. According to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), which is deeply involved in Syria, these Syrians are part of the silent majority who reject violence. Inter-religious dialogue remains an integral part of the work of JRS, which serves Sunnis, Shi’a (including Alawites), Druze and Christians alike.
Tragically, the international community is not providing adequate support to Syrian groups engaged in humanitarian initiatives. Nonetheless, JRS teams – working in cooperation with Muslim, other Christian and secular organizations – try to ensure that civilians receive the support they need.