How To Explain The Syria Crisis To Your Kids

Photo: © UNICEF Comité Espanõl/Irak/Julio2013

Today’s post is from the team at UNICEF. The crisis in Syria is the largest humanitarian crisis of our generation, with two million Syrian people forced to flee their homes and half of which are kids.

I have talked briefly with my kids on what has been going on, but with a crisis like this it is often hard to know how much to tell and how to tell them.

UNICEF have put together this post to help parents explain the Syria crisis to their kids.


Given all the coverage in the news and on TV, the Syria crisis has probably caught the attention of your kids at some point over the past couple of years. When it comes to a crisis of this scale, it can be difficult to know how much to tell your kids about what’s going on. If your kids want to know more about Syria, here’s a rough guide on where to start.

The Basics

Situated in the Middle East, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, Syria is slightly smaller in land mass than the state of Victoria, with a population of about 21 million people (compared to Australia’s 23 million).

According to Reuters’ figures, Syria’s major ethnic groups include Sunni-Muslim Arabs (59.1%), Alawites (11.8%), Levantines (9.3%), Kurds (8.9%), and others (10.9%). The Alawites are currently in power.

What’s been happening?

Now in its third year, the Syria crisis started as part of the Middle Eastern protest movement Arab Spring, in the form of peaceful protests throughout Syria in March and April of 2011. Crowds called for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, and the end of Ba’ath Party rule.

These protests sparked an increasingly violent government backlash, which eventually led to civil war. Recent UN reports place the death toll at 120,000, with more than four million displaced from their homes within Syria, and another two million forced to flee the country.

There is now widespread fighting throughout Syria. According to the New York Times, the Syrian government has military support from Russia and Iran, while the rebels receive support from Qatar, Turkey and Libya.

The crisis escalated even further in August, as chemical weapons were used in an attack by the Syrian government in Damascus. The attack killed 1429 people (including 426 children), and affected more than 3600 people with “neurotoxic symptoms”.


refugees by number
{Image source}

Just a year ago, there were 230,370 Syrian refugees, now there are more than two million. Recent reports show that there are 460,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, more than 170,000 in Iraq, more than 720,000 in Lebanon, around 520,000 in Jordan, and more than 110,000 in Egypt.

Syria is second only to Afghanistan as a global producer of refugees, and surrounding countries are struggling to cope with the influx. The refugee camp Zaatari in Jordan has grown so big it is now the second largest refugee camp in the world, and is the country’s fourth most populous city.

What about those who stay?

Of the 4.25 million internally displaced Syrians, about two million are children. This means roughly one in four Syrians have been forced to abandon their homes due to the crisis.

The crisis has had a huge effect on the economy. Before the civil war, Syria had a diverse economy, but after more than two years of war, unemployment has quintupled, the currency has reduced to one-sixth of its pre-war value, and the economy has shrunk 35%.

There have been huge medical ramifications as well. About half of the country’s healthcare system has been destroyed, hospitals have been shut down, and a severe lack of medical supplies and worsening living conditions means that disease is on the rise, and medical conditions go untreated.

Many Syrian doctors have fled the country, while foreign doctors and health workers within Syria are being targeted, making it even harder for Syrians to gain medical treatment.

What will happen now?

While the world’s governments, the UN and various other agencies discuss what should happen next in Syria, charities and humanitarian organisations do their best to help relieve the suffering and improve the conditions of those involved.

The UNHCR has appealed for almost US$1.2 billion to help with the Syria crisis. At the end of August US$550 million had been raised.

What UNICEF is doing to help

At present Unicef is working with the Ministry of Health in immunizing over 2.4 million children in Syria against polio. Due to the nature of the conflict with children being moved around and having to live in cramped and unsanitary conditions, the chance of contracting diseases such as polio, measles, mumps and rubella have drastically increased.

With winter on the horizon, Unicef has provided the necessary supplies to keep as many children warm as possible by distributing blankets and installing heating in refugee camps. They are also preparing winter kits for children that will have necessary items such as witner jackets, boots, gloves and hats.

Unicef support

Unicef has addressed that between January and December 2013 they plan to work toward:

  • Reaching 2.5 million children with supplementary vaccination campaigns
  • Providing 10 million people with water treatment supplies to address drinking, cooking and personal hygiene needs
  • Providing 300,000 children access to psychological support and protection services.
  • Ensuring 1 million school children receive essential education materials

Statistics sourced from

If you would like to help UNICEF provide these necessities to the children of Syria, you can donate here.

Have you talked about the crisis in Syria with your kids?