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Last update: February 2023

The UN special envoy for Syria stated in January 2022 that the country’s economy had ‘collapsed’. US government sources stated that ‘the Russian invasion of Ukraine exacerbated the dire economic and humanitarian conditions’ in Syria. The disruption in the supply of wheat, of which Syria is heavily dependent on imports, and of other food staples led to increased food prices and higher costs for humanitarian organisations in Syria. Fuel prices continued to increase due to ongoing fuel shortages. Electricity shortages and rationing were common across the country. This caused very serious disruptions of daily life and of the economy. Shrinking salaries, economic deterioration, and loss of opportunities in Syria bore the risk of ever more Syrians leaving the country, engaging in war economy such as narcotraffic or being recruited by armed groups. The economic downfall was caused by war, ‘decades-long corruption’ by the Assad government, the collapse of the Lebanese banking sector, and was exacerbated by western sanctions. [Damascus 2022, 3.1, pp. 34-38]

According to the UNOCHA humanitarian needs overview, 900 000 people are in need in Damascus city, 40 000 of whom are said to be in extreme and catastrophic need. 600 000 of the overall population of 1.8 million in the city, as estimated by UNOCHA, are IDPs. [Damascus 2022, 3.8, p. 59]

Means of basic subsistence and employment

Years of conflict, displacement, the economic crisis, and prices that had risen ‘stratospherically’ contributed to growing levels of poverty among the population, forcing families to rely on measures such as reducing food consumption or sending children to work in order to survive [Damascus 2022, 3.2.2, p. 40]. Currency devaluation contributed to the loss of purchasing power: an employee who had a monthly income of about USD 500 before the war, would only earn the equivalent of about USD 20 in 2021 [Damascus 2022, 3.2.2, p. 41]. Half of Syrian population was relying on remittances sent from abroad with a higher proportion (70 %) in GoS-controlled areas. More than 70 % of IDP households were relying on money sent from abroad [Damascus 2022, 3.2.3, pp. 41-42].

Over 90 % of the Syrian population were living below the poverty line. Consequently, about 14.6 million Syrians (of an overall population of 21.7 million) were assessed to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2022. [Damascus 2022, 3.3, p. 43]

Food security

According to WFP, as of early 2021, 12.4 million people in Syria were food insecure and 81 700 children between 6 and 59 months were suffering from chronic malnutrition. By mid-2021, Syria ranked amongst the ten most food-insecure countries globally [Damascus 2022, 3.4.2, p. 45]. In February 2022, more than half the households (52 %) of overall 961 respondents interviewed by WFP by phone and across the country (except Idlib), reported poor or borderline food consumption. In Damascus, about 42 % of households reported inadequate food consumption. Nationwide, poor food consumption was more frequently reported by IDPs and returnees than by residents [Damascus 2022, 3.4.2, p. 46]. Shortage of wheat and, subsequently, of flour and bread led to long lines of people queuing for hours to buy bread at public bakeries, residents and visitors in Damascus reported in spring 2021 [Damascus 2022, 3.4.1, p. 43].

Housing and shelter

According to UNOCHA in its 2022 report over a third of the country’s population lived in substandard, damaged and / or inadequate shelters, including almost half (3.37 million people) of the estimated 6.92 million IDPs across Syria. It was reported that ‘[a]cross the country, and acutely in GoS-controlled areas, civilians continuously face deprivation of housing, land and property rights. Government security forces have destroyed houses in recently retaken areas for monetary gain. Vacated properties of thousands of displaced civilians have been auctioned without the involvement of their owners. In and around Damascus, large numbers of individuals are still being prevented from accessing their homes, without compensation.’ [Damascus 2022, 3.5.1, pp. 46-47]

Legislation on urban re-development was reportedly used by the GoS to confiscate or destroy property, mainly in pro-opposition informal settlements. Urban development projects often served to change the demographic composition of the affected neighbourhoods. Moreover, many residents who were displaced abroad were unable to return to Syria to claim ownership and consequently lost their property [Damascus 2022, 3.5.2, p. 48]. Due to new regulatory measures related to real estate and property, anyone with a record of government opposition might face difficulties in buying or selling property [Damascus 2022, 3.5.3, p. 49]. Pro-opposition IDPs and refugees, who owned property in development zones of Damascus were reportedly most likely to sell their properties in the near future, out of fear that they might not receive security clearance or might be expropriated [Damascus 2022, 3.5.3, p. 50].

Water and sanitation

After ten years of war, only about half of Syria’s water and sanitation systems functioned properly, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Water supply was further affected by the lack of electricity, as the country’s power generation capacity was down by 60 % to 70 %. UNOCHA estimated that about 70 % of sewage was released untreated and at least half of sewerage systems across Syria were not functional. Water cuts have been reported in Damascus, varying according to the area. In February 2022, it was stated that there was a significant improvement in the water flow of the main source of drinking water for the inhabitants of Damascus city. [Damascus 2022, 3.5.4, pp. 50-51]

Basic healthcare

UNOCHA stated that countrywide people’s access to basic services continued to decline, due to damaged infrastructure, lack of critical supplies, and lack of financial means as well as restrictions on free and safe movement. Particularly serious was the lack of technical personnel needed for delivery and maintenance of basic health services and to operate potable water supply systems. In December 2021, WFP reported that almost 23 % of interviewed households across Syria had difficulties in accessing medical care facilities, 48 % struggled with purchasing necessary medicines, mainly because they lacked financial means (55 %), but also due to shortages in pharmacies (17 %) [Damascus 2022, 3.6.1, p.51]. Civilians perceived to be opposed to the government claimed to have been denied access to medical treatment in Damascus [Damascus 2022, 3.6.1, p.52].

According to the latest WHO data available, as of December 2020, Damascus had 15 public hospitals, 11 of which were classified as ‘fully functioning’ and 4 as ‘partially functioning’ [Damascus 2022, 3.6.2, p.51]. As of March 2022, public health care was reportedly generally available in Damascus city. However, people would often have to wait long to get treatment and would have to pay for all medical products. In addition, a general shortage of doctors has been noted, as many had left the country [Damascus 2022, 3.6.1, p.52].

The general circumstances prevailing in Damascus assessed in relation to the factors above entail significant hardship. The person’s ability to navigate the above circumstances will mostly depend on access to financial means and in exceptional cases, the reasonableness requirement may be satisfied. The assessment should take into account the individual circumstances of the applicant.