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Syrian Refugee Crisis

As Syria Marks a Grim Anniversary, A Look Back at Direct Relief’s Response

The organization has worked to increase access to health services and other necessities for those displaced or affected by conflict, both within Syria and outside.

Much-needed medications and supplies arrived in Syria in March 2019. (Courtesy photo)
Much-needed medications and supplies arrived in Syria in March 2019. (Courtesy photo)

Civil war broke out in Syria in March of 2011.

Ten years later, hundreds of thousands of people have died – estimates vary as to precisely how many. Millions have been displaced. Entire communities have been destroyed.

Currently, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 6.7 million people have been internally displaced within Syria, and 6.6 million Syrian refugees have fled the country.

Before the conflict, Syria enjoyed a strong health system, and had seen significant improvements in important figures like life expectancy, vaccination, and maternal mortality. War changed that, destroying more than half the health facilities in the country’s turbulent northwest, and often making facilities like hospitals – and the workers who serve in them – the target of direct attacks. Today, Syria’s health system is in crisis.

Tents, donated by Barebones, are used as portable medical clinics in Aleppo, Syria. Many hospitals and health clinics have been destroyed, and Direct Relief sent tents, medicines and medical supplies in August 2017 to several organizations supporting Syrian refugees and people who have been displaced from their homes within Syria. One of those organizations is the Independent Doctors Association, which manages three hospitals and 16 health clinics in Aleppo. (Photo courtesy of the Independent Doctors Association)
Tents, donated by Barebones, are used as portable medical clinics in Aleppo, Syria. Direct Relief sent tents, medicines and medical supplies in August 2017 to several organizations supporting Syrian refugees and people who have been displaced from their homes within Syria. (Photo courtesy of the Independent Doctors Association)

Direct Relief has maintained a strong presence in the region since 2015, as the conflict worsened. The organization began by supporting refugees in Jordan and Turkey before building partnerships in Syria itself.

Today, Direct Relief supports a range of groups working on the ground in Syria and with refugees in other countries, including Syria Relief and Development, the Syrian American Medical Society, and the Independent Doctors Association.

Dr. Ikram Haboosh, an obstetrician, performs a surgery at Idlib National Hospital. Dr. Haboosh cares for a population of primarily displaced women and children. (Photo courtesy of the Syrian American Medical Society)
Dr. Ikram Haboosh, an obstetrician, performs a surgery at Idlib National Hospital. Dr. Haboosh cares for a population of primarily displaced women and children. (Photo courtesy of the Syrian American Medical Society)

Funding and medical aid have been used for a wide range of medical activity, from supplying basic medical care to those internally displaced – along with sarin gas antidotes and other essential items for those directly placed at risk – to supporting cancer treatments and reproductive health in Syria.

In addition, Direct Relief has worked to support Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Armenia, Greece, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Turkey. Many of these refugees currently reside in camps or other temporary living situations, where they experience everything from mental health concerns related to their experiences to the direct threat posed by Covid-19.

Emergency medical supplies leave Direct Relief's warehouse bound for Syria. (Direct Relief photo)
Emergency medical supplies leave Direct Relief’s warehouse bound for Syria. (Direct Relief photo)

All in all, Direct Relief has provided more than $234 million and 1.1 million pounds in aid to the Syrian conflict, constituting one of the largest and longest-sustained emergency response efforts in Direct Relief’s 73-year history. The organization’s response is ongoing.

In addition, Direct Relief is evaluating support for Syrian and other refugees in Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

Syria

Working with on-the-ground partners, including the Syrian American Medical Society, Direct Relief has provided funding and medical aid to hospitals, primary health care centers, and field clinics in Syria, including in the country’s tumultuous northwest. Many of these providers care for those who have directly experienced or been displaced by conflict. The organization donated tents for those displaced, many of whom have been forced into makeshift shelters.

Direct Relief also provided Syrian Relief and Development with packs designed for medics to carry into the field.

The conflict has not only increased the need for emergency services and basic primary care. Everything from reproductive health care to cancer treatment has been interrupted, compromised, or threatened.

To help frontline health workers maintain access to these vital services, Direct Relief has donated midwife kits, prenatal vitamins, and contraception to organizations serving the country’s women. Insulin, inhalers, and rare diseases medications have been provided to those dealing with ongoing health conditions.

In addition, Direct Relief supports the Syrian American Medical Society with oncology drugs that allow the on-the-ground group to continue their lifesaving work for patients with breast cancer, lymphoma, and other cancers.

Medical staff prepare medication at the SAMS Oncology Center in Idlib, Syria. The facility is filling a gap for patients that would otherwise have to travel long distances for cancer care, or forgo treatment altogether. (Photo courtesy of Syrian American Medical Society)
Medical staff prepare medication at the SAMS Oncology Center in Idlib, Syria. The facility is filling a gap for patients that would otherwise have to travel long distances for cancer care, or forgo treatment altogether. (Photo courtesy of the Syrian American Medical Society)

As Covid-19 has gained ground in Syria, Direct Relief has responded, providing both PPE and an emergency grant intended to support frontline health providers.

Greece

Direct Relief’s support to Greek partner Astoli provided refugees in the country – including Syrian refugees – with wound care, personal hygiene supplies, and other essential items.

Vaseline, lotion, wound care supplies, personal hygiene supplies, blankets, and other essential items arrive in Greece in 2016, to be distributed to major refugee camps around Athens.
Vaseline, lotion, wound care supplies, personal hygiene supplies, blankets, and other essential items arrive in Greece in 2016, to be distributed to major refugee camps around Athens. (Photo courtesy of Astoli)

As time has passed, health care providers working with refugees saw a significant increase in mental health needs. Covid-19 has also increased the need for health interventions. Direct Relief has responded to these needs by supporting an on-the-ground partner, Terre des hommes, that teaches refugees the skills to produce PPE while providing educational services. The organization will also offer mental health support to refugees in the Greek camp.

At the same time, Direct Relief is supporting the Syrian-American Medical Society’s work in the Attica region of Greece, which aims to provide mobile medical care and Covid-19 awareness education to vulnerable women and children in refugee camps and at hotels for unaccompanied minors.

Iraqi Kurdistan

Direct Relief has supported the AMAR Foundation, a Middle East-based organization, with specific items intended to care for refugees at Iraqi health centers and clinics. These items included sutures, pulse oximeters, gynecological instruments, and Vaseline petroleum jelly. Direct Relief’s support was enhanced by Boeing, which transported the shipments by air, free of charge.

Armenia

Through long-term partner Armenia Artsakh fund, Direct Relief provided medical aid a clinic staffed by Syrian American doctors who had fled the conflict themselves and went on to provide primary care and other services for other Syrian refugees in Armenia.

Jordan

Beginning in August 2013, Direct Relief provided more than $5.3 million worth of medical aid to doctors caring for refugees in Jordan.

A young girl is examined at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, as part of the Vaseline Healing Project. (Photo by Mark Semegen for Direct Relief)
A young girl is examined at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, as part of the Vaseline Healing Project. (Photo by Mark Semegen for Direct Relief)

Because refugees living in close and difficult conditions are particularly vulnerable to skin disease, Direct Relief, working with the pharmaceutical company Unilever, conducted a skin health clinic in the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp. The clinic focused on treating treating skin-related injuries, infections, diseases, and other conditions.
The organization also provided a grant to the Royal Health Awareness Society to help them treat chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, among refugee populations.

Lebanon

Since 2011 Direct Relief has worked with America Near East Refugee Aid (Anera) to support hospitals and primary health care facilities in Lebanon, providing millions of dollars in medical aid to the organization.

As Lebanon’s health system has been weakened by economic instability, Covid-19, and the Beirut port explosion, refugees, already in a vulnerable position have been affected further. With that in mind, Anera supports the health care providers that are likely to care for these and other vulnerable groups.

The pharmacist of the Ibad Al Rahman Association in Beirut, which in partnership with Anera and Direct Relief, aims to provide various social services to the community by offering health and medication support. (Photo by Francesca Volpi for Direct Relief)
The pharmacist of the Ibad Al Rahman Association in Beirut, which in partnership with Anera and Direct Relief, aims to provide various social services to the community by offering health and medication support. (Photo by Francesca Volpi for Direct Relief)

In addition, Direct Relief provided a grant to Anera Lebanon for a dental program specifically focused on Syrian refugee children, as well as dispensing feminine hygiene kits for refugee women.

Since the 2020 port explosion, the organization’s support to the country has increased significantly. Direct Relief has supported the response to the explosion with emergency medical grants, chronic disease medications, cancer treatments, PPE, and other medical aid.

Turkey

In addition to supporting the Syrian American Medical Society’s work with refugees in Turkey, which included a grant to build and distribute hygiene kits among those displaced, Direct Relief has also donated millions in medical aid to a partnership between a private humanitarian aid organization and a Turkish authority. The aid was designed to reach refugees living in more than 20 formal camps as well as hundreds of thousands of people living in other areas near the Syrian border.

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