The Syria crisis remains the largest displacement crisis in the world, with over 5.6 million registered refugees and over six million people displaced within Syria. The situation evolved inside Syria during 2018. Large-scale fighting concluded in many parts of the country enabling some 1.2 million internally displaced people to return to their area of origin in the first ten months of 2018. Conversely, the security situation in other areas remained challenging, with large-scale internal displacement being reported throughout 2018. Across the country, access to basic services and socio-economic opportunities remained challenging, particularly in areas recovering from the impact of fighting.
Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt hosted 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees as of 1 December 2018. There was no largescale arrival of refugees into neighboring countries over the course of 2018 as borders and admission practices remained closely managed. At the same time, none of these countries saw a substantial decrease in the registered Syrian refugee population, while some witnessed net increases as a result of various factors, such as new-borns and new registrations, including some new arrivals.
The issue of refugee return gained increasing attention in 2018 following developments inside Syria and across the region. As of 30 November, UNHCR recorded some 42,728 spontaneous refugee returns in 2018. These figures are based on government sources and direct observation by UNHCR. The actual number of returns may be significantly higher. These return movements occurred in a selforganized manner or with host government engagement in some countries. 3RP partner activities in respect of such spontaneous return movements included monitoring, counselling, assessments of the voluntary nature of return, and support with civil status documentation. Such engagement was guided by UNHCR’s Comprehensive Protection and Solutions Strategy: Protection Thresholds and Parameters for Refugee Return to Syria (CPSS), released in February 2018.
Return intention surveys conducted in 2018 found that 76 per cent of Syrian refugees hoped to return to Syria one day. However, 85 per cent of respondents stated they do not have the intention to return in the next 12 months.
Respondents across the region indicated that the main issues affecting their decision to return relate to physical risks, availability of essential services, including access to education, livelihood and job opportunities, conscription, and fear of punishment for having fled or refused to fight. Legal obstacles and challenges in reclaiming property or having access to civil status documentation were also highlighted as key issues.
Resettlement remained an important but relatively limited option throughout 2018. Some 23,000 refugees were submitted for resettlement in the first ten months of 2018, even though the number of vulnerable refugees who meet the resettlement criteria is much higher, at around 10 per cent of the total Syrian refugee population. Resettlement is likely to remain a limited option, particularly as the number of a resettlement places for Syrians is decreasing compared to previous years.
Given the current dynamics, it is projected that the registered Syrian refugee population in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt will remain high throughout 2019, in line with current figures. This will mean that the primary burden for the situation will continue to fall primarily on host countries and communities who have generously opened their countries for many years now.
However, despite their efforts, the conditions of refugee families across the region remains challenging. The welfare profile of Syrian refugees has not changed significantly over the past year, with current estimates for poverty rates continuing to exceed 60 per cent in some host countries. Poverty for refugees also manifests itself as low educational attainment, subpar health and nutrition outcomes, exposure to physical insecurity and natural hazards, and substandard living conditions. For instance, some 35 per cent of Syrian refugee children (5-17 years) still remain out-ofschool across the region. Meanwhile, Palestine refugees affected by the Syrian crisis continue to face particular vulnerabilities.
The impact of the crisis on vulnerable girls, boys, women and men’s protection and socioeconomic well-being is profound and will likely have long-term effects. As more refugees remain iunable to meet their basic needs, protection risks such as early marriage, sexual and gender-based violence, child labour, indebtedness and exploitation may worsen. Childhood poverty in refugee populations is particularly damaging because it has been shown to contribute to intergenerational poverty.
While recent economic developments and outlook for countries across the region hosting the majority of refugees are somewhat contrasted, most have recorded persistently weak growth that has left per capita incomes near stagnant since 2008. While economic growth in countries in the sub-region was not high prior to the Syria crisis, this has been exacerbated by the effects of the crisis and growth is expected to remain relatively sluggish as a result of ongoing regional uncertainty, slowdown in economic activity, global monetary conditions and other economic pressures.
Host countries continue to face a range of related political, economic, and social challenges, including ensuring basic service provision and stimulating economic opportunity. Unemployment continues to hover above 10 percent in most economies and was estimated at over 18 percent in Jordan in 2017. The recently published 2018 Arab Youth Survey also revealed that 31 per cent of youth in the Levant countries (Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq) identify creating new and well-paying jobs as the top policy priority for their countries to move in the right direction.
While the levels of social tension between refugees and host communties have remained relatively stable on a macro level across the region, the combined effects of these socio-economic conditions can lead to increased fatigue among host communities in some countries. This is despite the fact that assessments have pointed to the positive impact of refugees can have on the local economy and other spheres of life.
Against this backdrop, 3RP partners worked to address the protection and assistance needs of refugees and vulnerable host communities in 2018. This includes: the enrolment of over 1.2 million children aged 5 to 17 in formal education; the provision of support to over 50,000 individuals to access employment (training, internships, job placement and language courses); the provision of food assistance to over 2.3 million people; the engagement of almost 800,000 individuals in community-led initiatives; and, the disbursement of emergency cash assistance to over 450,000 households, giving them the choice and dignity to spend the money according to their most pressing needs. In addition, 3RP partners continue to work with host governments on the issue of work permits, in furtherance of the outcomes of the London conference in 2016.
The funding environment for the 3RP continues to be challenging amidst varied global and national economic challenges. Nonetheless, donors remain generous, with the total funding provided by donors to the 3RP in 2018 recorded at some USD 2.9 billion as of 30 September (52 per cent of requirements). Over USD 12 billion has been channeled through the 3RP since 2015. Outside the 3RP pledges, bilateral and multi-lateral donors have provided substantial support in the form of grants and loans to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt in 2018. In addition 3RP partners are grateful for donors enabling the carry-over of funds received in 2018 to be used towards 2019.