Virtually all Syrians are affected by the war in their everyday lives. In addition to the daily threat of violence and death, the economy has been largely destroyed and many have found it difficult to manage their livelihoods. This is especially true of the several millions who are fleeing inland.
More than 5.6 million Syrians have left the country since 2011, according to UN estimates at the end of 2018, which, however, only include refugees registered in neighboring countries. Most are in Turkey and Lebanon. The situation of refugees is particularly difficult in Lebanon. In Iraq, the IS ravages, especially in the years 2014–2017, created a domestic refugee crisis with difficult conditions for Syrians as well. Particularly vulnerable are stateless Palestinians from Syria who have been discriminated against or rejected by the Jordanian and Lebanese authorities.
- Countryaah Official Site: Official statistics for population in Syria, including population growth, density, and estimation in next 50 years.
Already in 2016, the UN estimated that more than 13 million Syrians needed assistance to survive. Around a third of them were in enclosed areas or places that were difficult to reach. Four out of five families were estimated to live in poverty. Most of the sieges have ceased later, but poverty has increased rapidly.
The UN pays tribute to the neighboring countries that house the majority of all Syrians who have left the country, but the international aid efforts do not keep pace with the needs. Lack of money has forced both private donors and UN agencies, including UNHCR (refugees), WFP (food assistance) and UNRWA (Palestinian refugees), to cut aid programs or temporarily suspend deliveries.
The worst is the situation in opposition-controlled parts of Syria, but also in the government-controlled area, the economic situation suffers, with rising bread prices, for example, even though more than half of the state budget now goes to subsidies of, for example, oil, electricity, bread and sugar. The government has gradually raised the government-set prices for gasoline, which has hit hard on ordinary people as well as the transport industry and the economy as a whole.
In 2014, the UN stated that 245,000 Syrians lived under siege in their own country. The government side has systematically used starvation and sometimes even shut down the water supply in areas that are besieged by the army. Opposition groups have done the same in other areas. Deaths from famine have been reported from such besieged areas. Military offensive in 2018 ended the siege in most places, but diluted the refugee streams in the country.
The UN Security Council has decided that no UN agencies need to wait for permission from the Bashar al-Assad government to send cross-border assistance, as has been the case in the past. The Assad government has generally refused to authorize deliveries to opposition-controlled areas.
The war has devastated the hospital system and left millions of Syrians without access to adequate care. When the corona pandemic reached Syria in 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that less than two-thirds of hospitals were functioning. Particularly large was the lack of trained staff. Many hospitals also lack antibiotics, pain relief and dressings. Poorer sanitary conditions make diseases spread and infections difficult to stop. In 2013, outbreaks of polio were reported for the first time in 14 years. The UN launched a comprehensive vaccination campaign, to which both the government and various opposition groups contributed. Nearly three million children were vaccinated. New polio cases were reported despite this in 2017, and the spread of infection was stopped by yet another vaccination campaign.
The number of cases of the parasite disease leishmaniasis doubled according to WHO between 2010 and 2018. The skin disease is spread by sand mosquitoes. Because there is a link to malnutrition and poor hygienic conditions, the war has contributed to the increase, not least in areas held by the Islamic State (IS). There, WHO has in recent years distributed drugs and mosquito nets and established clinics, including in al-Raqqa.
In the wake of the war, crime has increased. To cope with their livelihoods, some who previously conducted normal business operations have engaged in smuggling and trading on the black market. Armed groups on both the opposition and government side are involved in extortion, robbery and looting to finance their operations. Ordinary Syrians and businessmen, in turn, have been forced to seek protection from armed groups, and often have to pay them to secure their families or businesses.
Syria has a relatively well-developed social insurance system on paper that includes pensions, sickness benefits and unemployment benefits. The system is financed by fees paid to the state by both the employer and the employees. All employees in production should in principle be insured, but large groups, such as farm workers, are outside the system. For those without insurance, a large family is the best safety net.
Syrian everyday life largely revolves around the family. Because public aging care is lacking, the pensioners are dependent on family support. It is also within the family that parents are primarily looking for suitable marriage partner for their daughter or son. Especially in rural areas, marriage is rarely done without parents having a decisive influence. In general, the groom’s family has to pay the dowry to the bride and her relatives, and this can be large sums, sometimes several annual salaries. Often, the sum is paid only at a divorce, when the money goes to the woman’s maintenance. Home remuneration is also a reason why most people want marriage to be kept within the family: then you can bypass the tradition or at least keep the money within a closer circle.
Syria is a conservative country with clear gender roles. Women are expected to care for the children, the family and the home. Few Syrian women have their own careers (see Labor market).
Women are discriminated against in inheritance and family law, where the state allows local communities to apply religious laws. (Sunni Muslim interpretation is followed for all Muslims, but Christian traditions for Christian Syrians.) This makes it more difficult for women than men to divorce and a divorced woman is deprived of custody of her sons when they turn 13 and daughters when they turn 15 Men can avoid punishment for rape if they marry the victim. (Some Arab countries have over the past few years tore up such laws, which when they were introduced partially reverted to French law from the Napoleonic era, when a man guilty of dowry could avoid punishment by marrying the kidnapped.) Rape in marriage is considered not as a violation of Syrian law. So-called honor-related crimes occur, but there are no statistics to show how common they are. The penalty for “honor killings” was sharpened in 2009 but is still milder than for other murders. Of the 250 members of parliament elected in 2016, 33 are women, just over 13 percent.
In many opposition-controlled areas there are no functioning courts. Law enforcement is conducted instead by local rulers, usually according to Sunni interpreting (in many places particularly strict). It appears that armed groups are harassing or imprisoning women who do not want to wear a Muslim veil according to the model they have prescribed. The most extreme Islamists, such as IS, have stoned women accused of adultery to death. The Kurdish self-government that has been established in areas in northern Syria is governed by groups of related PKKs and has a more positive view of gender equality, although conservative traditions still affect women’s lives to a great extent.
Although women are often severely affected by the fighting, they are exclusively men in most armed groups (on both sides). On the government side, there are some militia groups that recruit female soldiers, especially in the Homs area, even though they make up a small proportion of the combatants. The Kurdish guerrillas in northern Syria, on the other hand, make frequent use of female warriors and also female commanders, with inspiration from the PKK movement’s feminist values.
Syria is a young country, where 35 percent of the population is under 15, according to figures from the WHO in 2013. Large youth cohorts and high youth unemployment are considered to have contributed to the problems in the country. Child labor occurred on a small scale before the war, but is now common in some areas, including among refugees outside Syria (see Labor Market). Some armed groups, mainly on the rebel side but also among the Kurds and on the government side, use child soldiers.
Gay, bisexual and transgender people have low status in society and “unnatural sexual intercourse” can provide up to three years in prison in government controlled areas. There is no active persecution of LGBT people on the part of the government, but there is also no debate about their right to freedom from discrimination. Nor are Syrian human rights organizations working for the rights of sexual minorities. In opposition areas different laws apply, but the situation for gay, bi and trans people may be assumed to be even more difficult there. Militant Islamist groups have carried out public executions of people accused of homosexuality during the war.
FACTS – SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Infant Mortality: 14 per 1000 births (2018)
Percentage of HIV infected: 0.1 percent (2018)
Proportion of HIV infected among young women
0.1 percent (2018)
Proportion of HIV infected among young men: 0.1 percent (2018)
Proportion of population with access to clean water: 96.7 percent (2015)
Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 91.2 percent (2017)
Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 3.6 percent (2012)
Public expenditure on health care per person: $ 66 (2012)
Proportion of women in parliament: 13 percent (2018)