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The Syrian refugee crisis: FAQs and how you can help

Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, more than 13.5 million refugees have been displaced from their homes. 

Families torn apart, historic landmarks destroyed, livelihoods lost. Doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, parents, elders, and children facing impoverished conditions and economic uncertainty. Many refugees of the Syrian Civil War may never be able to return to their home country. 

At Kiva, we are committed to providing financial tools to refugee communities so they can rebuild their lives. With support from our generous lenders, we can help some of those displaced by the Syrian war restart and restore financial stability. 

Fund a loan to a refugee today

A building in Daraa, Syria that's seen the effects of the war

Background on the Syrian refugee crisis

What caused the refugee crisis in Syria?

In March 2011, the Syrian government cracked down on protests against corruption and lack of political freedom in the southern town of Daraa, part of a pro-democracy uprising across the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring

Social unrest escalated across the country, with violent fighting between pro-democracy supporters and government security forces. Cities and towns rapidly devolved into war zones, and people began fleeing their homes to find safety, creating a refugee crisis that continues to be one of the largest humanitarian emergencies in history.

Read more: These best friends were bonded by war and exile

When did the Syrian civil war start?

The deadly force and chemical weapons deployed by the Syrian government to quash opposition began on March 15, 2011. That date is now considered to be the official start of the war. 

With outside entities and other countries funding troops on both sides of the war, the conflict has deepened into a global crisis. World heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, and entire cities have been shelled into oblivion. The Syrian Civil war rages on with no end in sight, with millions of individuals and families bearing the suffering. 

How many Syrian refugees are there?

In 2021, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that more than 50 percent of the population has been displaced from their homes. 13.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by the Syrian Civil War—almost half of them children. More than 6.6 million refugees have been forced to leave Syria and their homes behind. 

The rest remain inside the country, where violent clashes continue and more than 14.6 are estimated to be facing lack of food, medical care, and housing. In 2021, three quarters of all households in Syria could not meet their most basic needs—10 percent more than the year before.

Which countries have most Syrian refugees gone to?

5.6 million Syrian refugees have found refuge in neighboring countries. The majority of displaced Syrians have made their way to the bordering countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Germany has also welcomed more than a half a million refugees into its borders. 

The number of Syrian refugees continues to rise and exact figures fluctuate. Statistica published a 2020 breakdown of the countries that took in Syrian refugees and how many: 

  • Turkey - 3,685,839

  • Lebanon - 851,718

  • Jordan - 668,332

  • Germany - 616,325

  • Iraq - 345,952

Where Syrians are going when they flee their country can depend on their resources and whether they have family or friends outside the borders. Syrians are made up of many different religions, ethnicities, and cultural groups, and every family has a unique background and story to tell. 

Stories of Syrian refugees

"We were lucky to leave alive."

When she was pregnant with her second child, Dima was forced to flee her home in Syria to another area within the country. Her husband was able to join her after being jailed and beaten, but the shelling and gunfire followed them. They fled again with their children, the wound from Dima’s cesarean section still fresh, landing this time in Lebanon. 

“I hope we can live in peace and I can educate my children,” says Dima, who continues to care for her family in Lebanon. “Hopefully, we will return to Syria when there is peace and stability.”

Another Syrian refugee, Mohammed, arrived in Lebanon with his wife and four children in 2012, after his hometown of Joubar became unlivable due to the war.

“It became quite violent and conflict-ridden,” Mohammad recalls. “It was impossible to even walk to work, even though I lived only a few hundred meters away. We were lucky to leave alive.”

In Turkey, many displaced Syrians find themselves living in one of the country’s 24 refugee camps. Though safe from the bombs and bullets, these camps often don’t provide much in the way of creature comforts. 

“When I came here, I didn’t know where to go. When they told me I should enter a camp, I was very surprised,” says Saffa, who spent three years living in the Midyat refugee camp with her six children. “I was shocked to see tents—it was very shocking to us.”

Saffa now sells silk scarves in Midyat, Turkey

For these Syrian refugees and millions of others, life will never be the same. Their homes are gone, and they are now hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away from their extended families. Finding work and supporting their children remain formidable challenges. 

Yet many find footing in these new places and are rebuilding their lives. 

Kiva’s role in supporting refugees

Since 2016, Kiva has lent to 28,600 refugees and counting, with a repayment rate of 95.5 percent, a very similar rate to non-refugee borrowers.

What is Kiva doing to help Syrians affected by conflict?

While immediate humanitarian aid continues to be needed in Syria, Kiva works to provide Syrian refugees who are rebuilding in new places with the resources they need to start over. Our approach is multi-pronged and made possible by many of our Lending Partners as well as our teams that are bringing new technology to promote financial inclusion. 

Kiva aims to offer opportunities for economic growth to displaced people through:

  • Individual loans to launch businesses, expand existing ventures, or meet personal needs

  • Impact-first investing through Kiva Capital 

  • Helping to change perspectives in the industry about lending to refugees

Accessing financial tools and capital is already difficult for many people across the world; for refugees, it’s even harder. While traditional banks consider refugees too much of a risk and presume that they will default on their loans, Kiva has shown that refugees make excellent borrowers. 

Related: Born in a refugee camp, now designing her own collections in NYC

Since 2016, Kiva has lent to 28,600 refugees and counting, with a repayment rate of 95.5 percent, a very similar rate to non-refugee borrowers. Though reluctant at first to lend to Syrian refugees, our Lending Partners in the Middle East are now enthusiastic about underwriting microloans to the refugee community. One loan officer in Lebanon says that refugees are among his favorite clients, due to their excellent repayment record.
Kiva loans help refugees stabilize their situations as they figure out next steps. Dima, the young mother who escaped her war-torn home for Lebanon, secured a microloan to buy medication for her son and daughter, who both have significant respiratory issues.

“Honestly, if I wasn’t able to secure the medicine for my children, they would have suffered a lot of chest pain,” says Dima, who was able to repay her loan with her job as a makeup artist. 

For Mohammed, a Kiva loan meant turning his decades of experience in manufacturing and entrepreneurship into a new venture. After walking away from his business in Syria, he was able to purchase a new aluminum pressure die-casting machine and start a new machine shop in Lebanon. He’s now able to support his family and plans to take out another loan to scale production and pay for his children’s education.   

Mohammed was able to use his skills to start a business in Lebanon

After moving out of the refugee camp in Turkey, Saffa and her family settled in nearby Midyat, where there is a community of other Syrians. The enterprising mother has received two Kiva loans to start businesses. The first, a small grocery store, thrived until COVID-19 shut down commerce, so she secured another loan to start again, this time selling scarves to others in her community.

As she plans to open her own clothing shop in Midyat, Saffa may use the credit history she has built to apply for another loan, which she is certain she will repay in a timely manner as she has the others. 

“Debts should be paid,” affirms Saffa. “I repay it with thanks.”

How to help Syrian refugees

With as little as $25, you can help a refugee as they rebuild in their new circumstances. By lending to a Syrian refugee, you can not only impact one life — when you receive repayments the funds can be used again and again to help others. 

That $25 can first help a Syrian refugee get medical care for her family, then enable another to buy a machine to start a business, then allow another to acquire inventory for her shop. Here’s how it works

Through the Lending Partners we work with, we help provide refugees all over the world with tools that sustain livelihoods and build financial stability. Please join us in helping more refugees access a better future for themselves and their families. 

Help fund a loan to a refugee

About the author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos is Kiva's Senior Storyteller and an award-winning writer based in Savannah, Georgia, USA. Covering social justice, cultural equity, sustainable growth, financial literacy, and always celebrating others' success, she is thrilled to help share Kiva's mission—and the stories of the people it connects.