After so-called Islamic State was largely suppressed in 2017, the Syrian government, with the help of its allies, extended its control over large parts of the country in 2018. This led to new displacements, whose end is not yet in sight. After the crushing of armed opposition groups in Afrin, eastern Ghouta and Dara’a, large numbers of newly, or repeatedly, displaced Syrians arrived in these three regions in the first half of 2018. Further displacements, and the resulting pressures on the public infrastructure, are to be expected in the future, in view of the ongoing clashes between government and opposition.
At the same time, the number of people who are cautiously returning to their home towns and villages, following a reduction in armed violence, is slowly growing. As yet, these are voluntary returnees who were mostly displaced inside Syria. At the same time, the neighbouring countries are increasingly less willing to accommodate Syrian refugees in large numbers. For example, the internal Lebanese security authorities have already started to set up centres, in a move to push for the return of Syrian refugees.
Many internally displaced people and returnees are heading for the city of Homs. From the start of the conflict Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, was the site of violent clashes between the Syrian government forces and the opposition. Today, Homs is one of the most heavily destroyed towns in the country. Of the 1.4 million people who once lived there, more than half have been displaced or killed. According to estimates, around 83% of the buildings were at least partially destroyed. The families who returned to the old city after the end of the fighting have lost everything and live in great poverty, under the most difficult conditions. Small shops have reopened amidst the ruins. But the economic crisis prevents a return to normality.
Against this background, humanitarian aid remains essential – the situation continues to be precarious in all sectors. According to current estimates, 43 per cent of the population of Homs depend on food aid, and 63 per cent of households in Homs find it extremely difficult to pay their monthly rent. Moreover, around three quarters of children under the age of 5 suffer from respiratory diseases. Three quarters of pregnant women suffer from pregnancy-related illnesses. Households can barely afford soap and hygiene products. Shrinking savings and a lack of income from work make it difficult to meet basic needs, and reinforce negative strategies such as child labour and reduced food intake.
Caritas has provided humanitarian aid in Syria since the beginning of the crisis, and supported the most vulnerable population groups. So far, more than 500,000 people affected by the conflict have received help. In Homs, Caritas plans to continue its emergency relief and additionally focus on aspects of promoting micro-enterprises.