1. Executive Summary
Since the Syrian uprising and armed conflict began in 2011, more than 11 million people have been internally displaced or have fled to neighboring states, namely Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. This has put a severe strain on host communities in these neighboring countries. In order to assist, the international community mobilized an estimated USD 3 billion for the 2018 Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plans, funding more than 50 organizations.
In order to obtain a comprehensive review of the response, Voluntas Advisory has for the past three years surveyed practitioners from international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government authorities, international donors, the private sector and academia. The survey covers the breadth of the refugee and host community response, from workers on the ground in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to key decision makers. A first report was published in November 2016 and a second in April 2018. This is the third annual survey conducted. The most recent survey was conducted from 9 January 2019 – 31 January 2019.
Overall, the survey finds a notable increase in the challenges for vulnerable groups. These negative developments relate to the growing pressure on returns and increasingly polarized environment which affect both host communities and refugees in the region. Some improvements can however be observed when it comes to the performance and strategies of key response actors i.e. donors, international organizations, international and national NGOs and national authorities. It appears that actors are starting to adjust and learn from past mistakes, as well as exploring new, innovative ways of delivering support to host communities and refugees.
Significant changes to the response are yet to be witnessed and the international community’s efforts to address gaps in the response, most noticeably the Grand Bargain Commitments, are yet to change the realities on the ground. Key challenges to the response are the exclusion of affected people in decision-making and insufficient funding for local aid providers. The Grand Bargain Commitments seek to address these issues, but the impact on the ground appears to be limited. Localization of aid is a key factor in determining practitioners’ perceptions of the response performance and addressing this challenge may both improve perceptions as well as actual delivery of aid to host communities and refugees.
Practitioners are not optimistic that the situation on the ground and the response will improve in the future. Indeed, 4 out 10 practitioners believe the situation for vulnerable groups will be worse next year, as opposed to 1 in 10 that think it will be better. Similarly, 4 out of 10 anticipate that the national and international response will be worse, while only 1 in 10 think it will improve.
With areas inside Syria stabilizing and deteriorating conditions in neighboring countries, approximately half of practitioners believe that voluntary returns to Syria will increase next year. Consequently, practitioners assert that the response in 2019 should focus on ensuring that returns happen in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner.
The caseload of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries is however going to remain high for the foreseeable future, especially as long as no significant progress is achieved to solve the conflict in Syria. The international community should therefore continue to focus on improving the direct response. It is vital to not only pick low-hanging fruits, but also to address key systemic design flaws in the aid architecture. This include addressing the organizational barriers to increasing aid for local providers and reviewing the capacity in response actors to manage aid strategically and efficiently.