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Key facts on the conflict in Syria and Iraq

Photo: UNHCR/Shawn Baldwin


Millions of people have fled the conflict in Syria and Iraq in the past few years. Why have they left? How many of them have left? How has Australia responded?

The Refugee Council of Australia was proud to host the premiere of Watan, a beautiful film exploring the two largest refugee camps in Jordan, during Refugee Week 2018. We encourage you to book a film screening for your local group and read more about the film here.

Photo: UNHCR/Shawn Baldwin

Why did the war in Syria start?

The Syrian civil war began in March 2011, when democratic protests spread throughout the Middle East. Protests began after teenage boys who had written anti-government graffiti were arrested and tortured. One of them was killed.

Some governments in the Middle East responded to protests with compromise and democratic reforms. The Syrian government instead killed hundreds of protesters and jailed many more.

The war is still continuing, more than nine years later. It has also become much more complex. There are now many people involved in Syria, all with their own agendas.

Syrian war in one easy read (The Conversation)

Parliamentary Library of Australia briefing

Who’s involved?

When the war began, different opposition groups fought President Bashar al Assad’s regime. Then Kurdish armed groups fought Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the north of the country. In 2018, Turkish-backed groups attacked Kurdish territory.

Each group is also backed by different powers around the world. The Assad regime is backed by Russian, Iran and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar back different rebel groups.

The US is focused on containing the Islamic State group. It entered the war as part of a coalition, and has supported the Syrian Kurds.

2 reasons–and 1 disease–that make peace in Syria so difficult (The Conversation)

What’s happening now?

In October 2019, the US left northern Syria. Turkey’s army intervened to drive away Syrian Kurds from the border. It also wanted to resettle refugees within the border area. This forced around 220,000 people to flee within Syria.

In recent years, the Assad regime has been winning the war. Offensives in 2018 and 2019 by the government forced more people to flee. In December 2019, the Assad regime stepped up attacks in the province of Idlib. This is considered the last stronghold of opposition to the Assad regime.

This caused nearly a million people to flee, mostly to camps in northern Syria. This was the worst displacement crisis of the war.

The worst humanitarian crisis (The Conversation)

In March 2020, the Turkish and Russian governments agreed to a ceasefire in the province of Idlib.

Timeline of the Syrian war (CNN)

However, life in Syria is still getting worse. Medical facilities, humanitarian aid operations and refugee camps have been attacked. Islamic State is also regaining power. Those displaced within Syria can no longer cross the border to Turkey or Jordan, which have closed their borders. They are also highly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can the World Alleviate Idlib’s Humanitarian Disaster Amid a Pandemic? (Council on Foreign Relations)

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