Five millionth refugee: a quarter of Syria’s population have fled across the borders

Emergencies, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 31 Mar 2017

After six years of brutal conflict the five millionth Syrian refugee fled their country overnight to seek safety – the total now equivalent to a quarter of the country’s pre-war population.

Oxfam and three Syrian organisations have called on the international community to recommit support to Syrians forced to flee.

Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said: “Considering the success of Australia’s resettlement of the 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, Oxfam calls for the Australian Government to resettle more of these vulnerable people.

“It is inexcusable that some of the richest countries in the world are enacting increasingly restrictive policies and turning their backs on Syrians forced to flee from bloodshed. A staggering 5 million Syrians are now refugees – more than the total population of countries such as New Zealand or cities such as Melbourne.”

Turkey Country Director for Syria Relief and Development (SRD) Dr Abdolsalam Daif said: “Syria, a country rich with history and traditions, is haemorrhaging its population, its medical workers, engineers, teachers, farmers. If the world doesn’t act immediately to pressure warring parties to stop the bloodshed, protect civilians, and give Syrians a chance to return home and rebuild their lives in a country at peace, we will have lost all our humanity.”

While half of Syria’s total pre-war population of 22 million have had to flee their homes since 2011, a quarter have then crossed into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, in an attempt to look for safety. When broken down, that is an average of 2,500 people crossing the border every day for the past five years.

Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) President Dr Ahmed Tarakji said: “When people talk about refugees, they imagine UN run camps. The reality is only 10 per cent of Syrian refugees live in camps. The overwhelming majority are in informal settlements established on agricultural land in Lebanon, in cramped flats in Jordan, and in housing with basic necessities in Turkey. They need jobs, education and healthcare. They need to be able to access services and markets, to contribute to the communities hosting them, and not strain overstretched societies. This can only happen if we all — donors, local authorities, national and international humanitarian agencies — step up our joint efforts.”

Though Syria’s neighbours have further restricted their borders since 2015, the relentless fighting and dim hopes of peace continue to force Syrians out of their war-torn country. They are either being smuggled into Lebanon at the risk of their own lives, or living in limbo in makeshift camps at the borders of Turkey and Jordan with little to no humanitarian aid available.

Dr Szoke said: “The international community seems intent on watching on as millions of people are stuck between the rock that their country has become and the hard place that exile offers them. Oxfam calls on rich countries to show their support for Syria’s neighbours that have welcomed these refugees and to resettle at least the most vulnerable 10 percent most of Syrian refugees by the end of 2017.

“Despite all the attempts to seal Syria’s borders, this sad milestone shows how desperate people are to flee the violence and persecution in the country. The international community can’t just pretend everything is ok and start sending people back to danger because it is politically convenient.”

Donate to the Oxfam’s Syria Crisis response at or by calling 1800 034 034.

For interviews with Dr Helen Szoke or Oxfam staff in the Middle East, please contact Dylan Quinnell on 0450 668 350 or

Note to Editors:

Oxfam has helped more than 2 million people in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon with life-saving clean water, sanitation, and vital support for families who have lost everything. We are also helping families get the information they need about their rights and receive legal aid

Organisations such as SAMS and SAWA for Aid and Development (SAID and Sawa Foundation) are providing support to refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries. SAMS organises medical and surgical missions to the region to provide healthcare to Syrians. They also support psychosocial programmes, such as art and play therapy, treatment of anxiety and speech disorders in children, as well as the psychological wounds of victims of arrest and torture.

SAID aims to improve the living conditions of refugees in need in Lebanon by providing them with material, logistical and psychological support and helping them become self-sustainable and independent. Sawa is present in 16 informal settlements in Lebanon and fully supports 20,000 refugees.

SRD provides health care, shelter and protection services, food and non-food items, and higher education to people inside Syria. The organization has distributed over $34 million worth of aid to over 2 million Syrians to date.