On World Refugee Day Syria continues to struggle with world’s largest internally displaced population - GOAL Global Skip to content

On World Refugee Day Syria continues to struggle with world’s largest internally displaced population


June 20, 2020 • 3 min read

GOAL has reached almost 800,000 displaced people in Syria with Covid-19 awareness messaging.

A UN report on displacement released this week shows that 79.5 million people or 1 % of humanity are now displaced. The figure is double the number of those displaced a decade ago.

Of this figure, nearly 46 million displaced remain inside their own country. Syria continues to have the largest forcibly displaced population of any country, with more than 6 million internally displaced people. Of the displaced, 80 per cent are women and children. Up to 960,000 displacements were recorded in the country’s northwest provinces between December 2019 and March 2020 alone.

A beneficiary receives a non-food item kit at a distribution in Idlib, Northern Syria.

For the past eight years, GOAL has been on the ground in Idlib, in Northern Syria, providing much-needed emergency support and access to food and water for 1.1 million people every day.

Displacement in the context of Covid-19

A Covid-19 outbreak in North West Syria would have unthinkable consequences. GOAL is particularly concerned about the impact if Covid-19 takes a takes a grip in war-torn Idlib Province, host to over 3.5 million internally displaced people hemmed into a small area.

With a weak health system as a result of the conflict, Syria is unprepared for a major outbreak of disease. As of mid-June, Syria has officially identified 187 cases of Covid-19 and 7 deaths. There are increased fears that the disease could be imported from neighboring countries such as Iraq, which has seen a recent sharp increase of cases.

This group of people were already vulnerable before Covid-19 and now they are increasingly at further risk.

Recent reports suggested that since the ceasefire began on the 5th of March 2020, more than 200,000 people — at least half of them children — have moved from overcrowded displacement camps either to other displacement sites or to their damaged homes they had previously abandoned due to the conflict, most are barely habitable. .

Supporting the vulnerable during the pandemic

Yasmin (6) and Lama (4) at an non-food item distribution site in Syria.

Preventing the rapid spread of Covid-19 in internally displaced and refugee camps has been at the centre of GOAL’s work.  As well as in Syria, GOAL has been providing Covid-19 support in Iraq, Turkey and Ethiopia.

To date, GOAL has reached almost 800,00 displaced people in Syria with health messaging as a result of an information campaign of Covid-19 awareness-raising. Additionally, over 150,000 people have received increased access to safe water. GOAL already provides 780,000 people with access to clean piped water, with over 10 million litres pumped annually.

Secondary impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic

Of further concern is the secondary impacts of Covid-19 in vulnerable countries including increased hunger, further weakening of health systems and economic devastation.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that Covid-19 has already disrupted much of the world’s global food supply chains, forcing the FAO to call for a further $6.69 billion in extra funding. They warn of a “crisis within a crisis.” The situation in Northwest Syria has become even more difficult over the past two months as the economy has sharply deteriorated. With the Syrian pound’s value plummeting, over 80 per cent of Syrians now live below the poverty line

GOAL is asking that the international community takes action to address a worsening situation.

In a Discussion Paper published this week GOAL has called for the UN humanitarian response plans to be fully funded and that warring parties heed the global ceasefire call led by the UN Secretary General.

GOAL has welcomed Ireland’s election to the UN Security Council in the hope that we will have a stronger voice in calling for peace. As long as violence continues in many of these countries, the reality is that the numbers of displaced will continue to increase.