Protection in Syria

Despite a general reduction in large-scale conflict-related hostilities across the country, there has been an increase in security threats, including crime-related incidents. The UN security monitoring system has recorded a rise in attacks using remote-controlled improvised explosive devices (RCIED). This includes attacks in Damascus, drone strikes in the military academy in Homs, along with multiple airstrikes. Meanwhile, the situation in northern Syria remains highly fluid provoking wider fears for a general escalation.  

After over thirteen years of crisis in Syria, the needs of the population, including the Palestine refugees, are higher than ever. Years of protracted conflict and ongoing socio-economic decline have taken a heavy toll on the population. The situation has been further aggravated by the earthquakes and multiple aftershocks in Turkey that impacted northern Syria from 6 February 2023 onwards, killing approximately 6,000 people in Syria and leaving more than 12,000 injured. In addition, the natural disaster caused  extensive damage to homes and infrastructure. It is estimated that the earthquakes affected up to 8.8 million people in Syria, in a context where close to 70 percent of the population (15,3 million people) required humanitarian assistance prior to these catastrophic events.  

The approximately 438,000 Palestine refugees remaining in Syria, already amongst the most vulnerable groups in the country, face unprecedented and continuously worsening levels of poverty and food insecurity. UNRWA's crisis monitoring survey in December 2022, found that 83 percent of Palestine refugees was living on US$2,15 or less per day, inclusive of UNRWA’s cash assistance, increasing to 89 percent in the absence of UNRWA cash assistance.  

In March 2023, an UNRWA post-distribution monitoring (PDM) survey revealed that 56 percent of households had to borrow food, and 49 percent reduced the number and size of their meals due to food shortages. Additionally, 36 percent of households resorted to severe coping strategies, such as begging (4 percent) and selling hard-to-replace assets like sewing machines, wheelbarrows, and bicycles (32 percent). These actions highlight the increasing poverty and inability of refugee households to cope. Furthermore, about 40 percent of the Palestine refugee population in Syria remains in prolonged displacement. 

Almost two in three families in Syria are psychologically distressed over their living conditions. Signs of psychological distress in children are reported by more than 27 percent of households and are highest in female-headed households or when the head of household is living with a disability. The combined impact of the conflict, unilateral sanctions, the legacy of COVID-19, a cholera outbreak in 2022, the worsening economic situation, and the February 2023 earthquakes has further worsened the protection situation in Syria, increasing the vulnerability of Palestine refugees.  

Household composition, traditional domestic roles, and community and family networks have all been disrupted, sometimes permanently. This has forced people to adopt negative coping strategies, such as child neglect, child labour, early forced marriages leading to school dropouts, and drug abuse. Female heads of households, unaccompanied and separated children, older persons, and persons with disabilities are particularly at risk of falling into deeper poverty and exploitation. Gender-based violence (GBV) remains a widespread concern, disproportionately affecting women and girls. With the rapidly changing context, the full extent of the protection concerns is becoming increasingly evident. 

Additionally, the prohibitive cost of rented accommodation outside refugee camps has forced the return of people to their houses in areas heavily damaged by the conflict, particularly in Yarmouk, Ein el Tal and Dera’a camps. Given the limited infrastructure and support services available, as well as the risks of Explosive Ordnance, these returns are out of necessity rather than choice. It is estimated that 30 percent of populated areas in Syria are contaminated by ERW, including Palestine refugee camps. This threat remains a major protection concern in Syria, particularly for children.  

UNRWA is working to address these protection concerns through various initiatives: 

  • Psychosocial support services 
  • Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) 
  • Gender-Based Violence (GBV) preventive and responsive services, including GBV case management, economic empowerment, and life skills at community centers with women’s safe spaces 
  • Legal assistance 
  • Protection programmatic activities and awareness-raising sessions 
  • Vocational training 

The Agency is integrating protection into its services by increasing staff capacity to identify and address factors affecting individual vulnerabilities. Protection monitoring, reporting, and advocacy are ongoing efforts. UNRWA will continue to: 

  • Participate in global protection mechanisms 
  • Engage with the International Human Rights System (IHRS) as appropriate 
  • Interact with relevant stakeholders, including the protection coordination structures of the Humanitarian Country Team at country and area levels 

UNRWA will continue to monitor, advocate for, and respond to particularly vulnerable groups within the Palestine refugee community. The Agency will also strengthen adherence to humanitarian principles by conducting integrated assessments of all its over 120 premises to ensure they are compliant with protection standards and UN values, making them safe, accessible, and inclusive spaces. 

*Last updated 2024