Swiss support for ICRC operations in Syria

Project completed
A little girl – one of millions of people displaced inside Syria – fetches water from an ICRC tanker in Talbiseh on the outskirts of Homs.
A little girl – one of millions of people displaced inside Syria – fetches water from an ICRC tanker in Talbiseh on the outskirts of Homs. © ICRC/ALMASRI, Entsar CICR

Since it began in 2011, the Syrian crisis has turned into one of the worst humanitarian disasters worldwide since the end of World War II. The ICRC is one of the few international organisations that manage to operate inside the country. The SDC is using the ICRC to provide food, access to water and healthcare to millions of Syrians caught up in the conflict.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Humanitarian Assistance & DRR
Human rights
Rule of Law - Democracy - Human rights
Material relief assistance
Human rights (incl. Women's rights)
01.01.2015 - 31.12.2015
CHF  8’300’000

Most people in Syria are facing human rights violations and hunger on a daily basis. They lack access to water and basic medical care. As well as killing over 200,000 people from 2011 to mid-2015, the conflict has forced millions to flee the violence.

In Syria about 5 million people live in areas inaccessible to most humanitarian organisations because of the prevailing insecurity. This situation gives rise to violations of international humanitarian law.

Switzerland's main humanitarian partner

The ICRC is one of the very few organisations getting aid to people in distress even in the most unsafe areas of the country. It is relying especially on thousands of Syrian Red Crescent volunteers.

That is why the SDC gave the ICRC nearly CHF 38 million between 2011 and the start of 2015 to support its activities in Syria and neighbouring countries (Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq) – in addition to Switzerland's sizeable contributions to the ICRC's headquarters budget. The ICRC is the SDC's main partner in terms of funding.

Working from both sides of the front line

The ICRC works tirelessly under the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence upheld in international humanitarian law to ensure that aid reaches people in need, regardless of where they are on the front line. "To do that, we constantly have to negotiate with all parties to the conflict; both the government and the armed groups," says Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria.

"In the areas beyond government control the negotiations become more complicated because you have to deal with not one, but many armed groups – sometimes twenty or so". The dialogue maintained by the ICRC is yielding results. From January to May alone, the ICRC was able to conduct more than 150 field visits and cross the front line 18 times to bring vital relief to the population.

The risks are high for humanitarian workers in the field. "In four years, over 40 Syrian Red Crescent employees have been killed while delivering aid," Marianne Gasser adds.  

Food, water and other essentials

Despite these casualties, the ICRC has been able to get help to millions of people in Syria. ICRC relief operations distribute food, equipment for constructing shelters, hygiene kits and other essentials. Another ICRC priority is water and sanitation. "A lot of infrastructure has been destroyed and we are working to restore it with local engineers," says Marianne Gasser. "Moreover, many people have found shelter in unfinished buildings with no showers, toilets or sinks. We help them by installing the missing equipment to prevent hygiene-related problems". 

The ICRC is also at work in the health sector. "In Aleppo, for example, there is only electricity for an hour a day. That has serious consequences for patients in hospitals and we are using generators to improve the situation. Plus we distribute drugs to treat chronic illnesses since they are increasingly hard to get hold of in Syria," Marianne Gasser adds.    

The ICRC is also working to restore contacts between family members separated by the conflict and monitor the situation of prisoners. Furthermore, it is helping millions of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.