Foreword From the UNHCR Representative
Marking its 7th year in 2017, the Syria crisis has, unfortunately, continued to be the world’s largest displacement crisis. Last year, some 6.1 million people were internally displaced, many for multiple times, while 13.1 million people remained in need of humanitarian assistance. Additionally, more than five million Syrian refugees were registered with UNHCR and governments in the region. Causing immense suffering, large-scale destruction, and continuing to drive people out of their homes, the crisis has taken a severe toll on the Syrian people. UNHCR teams in Syria stayed the course during the country’s most difficult years and extended their support to the most vulnerable. UNHCR expanded its operations as new areas opened up for humanitarian access, starting with eastern Aleppo at the start of the year and continuing to the east with the opening of a road linking Aleppo with Hassakeh Governorate, boosting the delivery of aid supplies to Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor, as these emergencies unfolded. Playing a major role in interagency coordination, UNHCR continued to lead three sectors out of eleven activated in Damascus (Protection and Community Services, NFIs and Shelter), thereby contributing to the objectives of the UN-coordinated Humanitarian Response Plan, namely to save lives, protect civilians and increase the resilience of the Syrian people.
In 2017, UNHCR delivered 2.6 million protection and community services interventions, distributed core relief items to 3.5 million beneficiaries, and improved shelter living conditions to over 482,340 people. Notably, as part of its emergency response, UNHCR participated in 16 cross-line interagency convoys bringing much-needed aid supplies to thousands of people living in very precarious conditions with little or no access at all to food, medicines and other basic commodities. These lifeline missions were conducted in exceptionally difficult circumstances to alleviate the suffering of civilians trapped in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.
Where it had regular access, and with a view to promote resilience through its humanitarian response, UNHCR mainstreamed community mobilization and self-reliance as key protection components to reduce vulnerabilities and protection risks. Alongside providing life-saving assistance, UNHCR as the main relief agency for protection and community services, pursued its community-based protection strategy and expansion of its community centers’ network. From 15 in 2015 to 74 in 2016, their number reached 92 by the end of 2017. As formerly besieged areas opened up for access, UNHCR’s teams also launched the concept of satellite centres in 2017– a small scale version of the community centre, in order to rapidly reach populations who have suffered long-term trauma and deprivation with a prioritised basket of key protection-related services. Our package of services increasingly included activities supporting livelihoods and self-reliance (life skills training, vocational training, small start-up business grants and community-based initiatives), in addition to education programmes, child protection services, SGBV prevention and response, individual and group psychosocial support interventions, assistance for persons with special needs, including the disabled and elderly, primary health care, legal counselling and legal aid including on civil documentation and housing, land and property (HLP) issues. Last year, our legal aid project implemented mainly in community centers and legal clinics across the country had benefitted some 120,000 individuals including for the provision of vital civil documents. Outreach programmes were augmented with 17 satellite centres, 58 mobile units, 2,190 community outreach volunteers and 648 community–based initiatives. Notably thanks to a communitybased approach to healthcare, UNHCR has been able to provide 545,680 people with access to health care including through health points inside community centers.
UNHCR was also able to deliver a winter-specific assistance consisting of winter clothes and other supplemental items to its regular CRI kits. From September 2017 and up to March 2018, it exceeded its initial target of one million people, and helped a total of 1.2 million people across Syria withstand the cold temperatures.
Developments in Syria in 2017 also translated with the spontaneous return of some 841,000 people in areas where fighting has receded, including some 77,000 refugees and 764,000 IDPs who returned spontaneously in a self-organized manner. While the humanitarian situation in some areas remains dire and conditions are not in place for facilitated or organized returns, UNHCR responds in the meantime to the returnees’ immediate and urgent needs through their inclusion in ongoing humanitarian programmes, encompassing humanitarian assistance and community-based protection services. UNHCR also engaged in projects benefitting the communities at large such as the establishment of community centres in return areas, the rehabilitation of some priority schools, clinics, bakeries, solar street lights, civil registries in coordination with sister agencies and within the inter-agency coordination framework.
The challenges ahead of us are still important but as we present to you this end-of-year report, it is time to acknowledge the tremendous amount of work that has been accomplished so far despite many constraints. For this, I would like to thank all our partners from the UN system, local and international NGOs, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent as well as the relevant local authorities, governorates and departments in the line ministries.
I would also like to pay tribute to the extraordinary resilience of some 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers who have remained in Syria in the past years and to the remarkable generosity of the Syrian people and the relevant authorities for continuing to host them under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Refugee protection is at the core of UNHCR’s mandate, and UNHCR will continue to stand and advocate for refugees until a durable solution can be found to their situation.
Looking ahead to 2018 and beyond, I would like to renew my heartfelt thanks to UNHCR’s partners for the joint team efforts and for the common determination to achieve more. Year after year, I have been deeply impressed by the strength and resilience of the Syrian people themselves, who strive to rebuild their lives and their future and who have been a source of inspiration and encouragement for us all.