News story

Syria Crisis: 2 years on

The UK government is working with international partners to achieve a lasting political transition which will bring this crisis to an end.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Today marks the 2-year anniversary of a conflict that has claimed the lives of over 70,000 Syrians, and created over 1 million refugees. The UK government is working with international partners to do all we can to achieve a lasting political transition which will bring this crisis to an end.

Two years ago today, the wave of the Arab Spring and its pro-democracy movement reached Syria when residents of the small southern city of Dara’a took to the streets to protest against the detention and torture of a group of schoolchildren who had scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall.

Peaceful demonstrations began to spring up across the country in show of solidarity, calling for democratic reforms. President Bashar al Assad’s response was a series of vicious crackdowns. Protesters were indiscriminately fired upon by security forces, and opposition strongholds were targeted with heavy artillery, helicopter gunships and jets. With no other choice, innocent civilians and Syrian army deserters took up arms to defend their communities. So the slide towards civil war began. 

A conflict of catastrophic proportions

The total estimated death toll is now over 70,000 and 10,000 people have died just since the start of this year - more than in the entire 1st year of the conflict.

The conflict has now reached catastrophic proportions:

  • 4 million people inside the country rely on humanitarian assistance to survive, almost a fifth of Syria’s total population
  • 40,000 people are fleeing Syria each week; three quarters women and children
  • last week the milestone of 1 million refugees was reached - around 125 Syrian babies are being born as refugees every day
  • the regime is now indiscriminately targeting civilian areas with ballistic missiles
  • the UN Commission of Inquiry has found evidence of horrific human rights violations; including massacres, torture, summary executions and a systematic policy of rape and sexual violence by the regime’s forces and its militia

How does this affect the UK?

What happens in Syria is vital to our national interest, for 3 reasons.

  • growth of extremism - while the vast majority of people opposing the regime are ordinary people trying to defend their communities and gain freedom for their country, Syria today has become the top destination for jihadists anywhere in the world; we can’t allow Syria to become another breeding ground for terrorists who pose a threat to our national security
  • the crisis is undermining the peace and stability of the region; on top of the refugee crisis, clashes are spilling over the Iraqi and Lebanese borders
  • extreme humanitarian crisis - the UK’s foreign policy is inseparable from upholding human rights, protecting lives, and supporting international law

What is the UK government doing?

The UK is doing all it can to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and achieve an inclusive diplomatic solution that leads to the end of the violence and a process of genuine political transition. 

We are working closely with the UN and international allies to ensure a lasting political settlement. We support the work of UN/Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in his continuing efforts to promote dialogue, and are pursuing diplomatic efforts to pave the way for a UN Security Council-backed transition process.

We have already contributed nearly £140 million in humanitarian aid so far. This provides:

  • food for 120, 000
  • clean drinking water for 30,000
  • medical assistance for over 140,000
  • shelter and blankets for 500,000

The UK is also committing £22.1 million in non-lethal equipment and practical support for the Syrian opposition and civil society. After successfully securing an amendment to the EU arms embargo, this assistance can now include non-lethal military equipment and all forms of technical assistance to the Syrian National Coalition intended for the protection of civilians.

For the sake of innocent Syrian civilians and our own National Security, we cannot afford to rule out any course of action in the future. On this, the 2nd anniversary of this tragic chapter of Syria’s history, we are more determined than ever to bring this crisis to an end and to support the Syrian people in building the peaceful, inclusive and prosperous Syria they deserve.

For more information see UK’s humanitarian assistance to Syria.

Published 15 March 2013