Delegation of the European Union to Iraq

The EU and the crisis in Syria

Bruxelles, 24/09/2018 - 15:42, UNIQUE ID: 170314_11

The war in Syria, one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has faced since World War II, continues to have devastating and tragic consequences for its people. It is also having an increasingly destabilising impact on the wider region, through the displacement of people, the exacerbation of political and sectarian differences and the spread of terrorism.

EU response to the Syrian crisis

The war in Syria, one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has faced since World War II, continues to have devastating and tragic consequences for its people. It is also having an increasingly destabilising impact on the wider region, through the displacement of people, the exacerbation of political and sectarian differences and the spread of terrorism.

Only a negotiated political solution, as defined in the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, will ensure lasting stability in Syria, and the elimination of Da'esh and other UN-listed terrorist entities in the country.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU has mobilised all political and humanitarian tools at its disposal in support of the Syrian people, remaining one of the main supporters of the UN-led efforts to reach a political solution and the main humanitarian donor for Syrians, with over €10.8 billion mobilised collectively with EU Member States in humanitarian, development, economic and stabilisation assistance.

In this context, the six strategic objectives laid down in the 2017 EU Strategy for Syria as last re-endorsed by EU Foreign Ministers in April 2018 continue to guide EU action:

  • An end to the war through a genuine political transition, in line with UNSCR 2254, negotiated by the parties to the conflict under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy for Syria and with the support of key international and regional actors,
  • To promote a meaningful and inclusive transition in Syria, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué, through support for the strengthening of the political opposition,
  • To save lives by addressing the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable Syrians across the country in a timely, effective, efficient and principled manner.
  • To promote democracy, human rights and freedom of speech by strengthening Syrian civil society organisations,
  • To promote accountability for war crimes with a view to facilitating a national reconciliation process and transitional justice,
  • To support the resilience of the Syrian population and Syrian society.

The EU Strategy for Syria complements the EU regional strategy for Syria, Iraq and the Da'esh threat and underscores the EU's adaptation to an evolving situation and challenges and focus on combating the remnants of Da'esh and the stabilisation of liberated areas in Syria. EU actions to counter Da'esh are in support of the Global Coalition to counter Da’esh, and illustrate the EU's full commitment to fighting terrorism, both inside and outside the EU, by non-military means. EU activities in Syria include countering violent extremism and radicalisation, clogging Da'esh financial flows, supporting dialogue initiatives, rehabilitation and reconciliation efforts of communities in territories formerly usurped by Da'esh, supporting human rights violation documentation, transitional justice and accountability and law enforcement agencies, supporting independent media, and de-mining. The EU established an autonomous sanctions regime to target ISIL/Da'esh, amongst other groups, in September 2016.

Syria remains a priority for the EU, which constantly works to keep it on the international agenda. In 2017 the EU hosted the first Brussels Conference  on Supporting the Future of Syria and the region. A second such event took place, again in Brussels, on 24th-25th April 2018, co-chaired with the UN. Both Conference brought together more than 70 delegations from the international community, including the regional countries, at ministerial level, around three objectives: I. reaffirm EU and international support to a political solution to the Syria conflict, consolidating global support for efforts to broker a political solution within the UN-led intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, II. Enhance support and improve conditions to allow for a principled international response to the humanitarian needs generated by the conflict, III. Maintain international engagement in delivering assistance to Syrians both within Syria and in neighbouring countries

The EU has called for an end to the unacceptable violence in Syria, which continues to cause the suffering of millions of Syrians and immeasurable destruction of infrastructure. Attacks on cultural heritage are also an unfortunate consequence of the conflict. The EU continues to condemn in the strongest terms the continuing violence and the widespread and systematic violation of human rights. The EU has provided €1.5 million to support the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in Syria.

The European Union responded decisively to the violent repression in 2011 of anti-government protests in Syria by suspending its cooperation with the Syrian Government and gradually extending targeted restrictive measures (with humanitarian exemptions). The EU will pursue its policy of imposing sanctions targeted at the regime and its supporters, as long as the repression continues. On 28th May 2018, the Council extended EU restrictive measures until 1st June 2019. The sanctions currently in place include notably an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank within the EU, export restrictions on equipment and technology that might be used for internal repression, as well as on equipment and technology for monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications. It now includes 259 persons and 67 entities targeted by a travel ban and an asset freeze over the violent repression against the civilian population in Syria. See the annex for an overview of sanctions in place.

The EU has been at the forefront of the work done to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control, to eventually lead to their destruction. In March 2016, the EU provided funding of €4.6 million to the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) special missions in the Syrian Arab Republic, including activities related to the OPCW Fact Finding Mission and the Joint Investigative Mechanism (UNSCR 2235). The fourth JIM report was published in October 2016. The EU delivered a statement in the OPCW on 7 March 2017. On 17 July 2017 and on 19 March 2018, the Council added 16 and 4 persons respectively to the list of those targeted by EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime for their role in the development and use of chemical weapons against the civilian population.

The EU Delegation to Syria expatriate staff continues to operate from Beirut, carrying out regular missions to Damascus.


The EU as leading donor

The Syrian crisis is one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters. The EU and its Member States have together allocated over €10.8 billion in humanitarian, development economic and stabilisation assistance since the start of the crisis, making the EU the leading donor of the international response for Syrians.

Since 2011, the European Commission’s support in response to the Syrian crisis has exceeded €5.2 billion, including both urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance, and non-humanitarian aid, which responds to immediate and medium-term needs. The Commission has allocated almost €1.1 billion in assistance to civilians inside Syria, of which almost 70 per cent, or €753 million, is humanitarian aid. Non-humanitarian assistance is made up of €268.6 million from the ENI, €83.8 million from IcSP, €16.1 million from EIDHR, and €15.9 million from DCI-Food (see below).

The latest EU-hosted Brussels Conference on Syria and the Region of April 2018 mobilised pledges totalling €3.5 billion/$4.3 billion for 2018 for Syria and the neighbouring countries affected by the crisis (Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt), with a further €2.7 billion/$3.5 billion in grants for 2019-2020. The EU and its Member States provided 77% of the total pledges (€4.8 billion/$6 billion out of the €6.2 billion/$7.8 billion pledged for 2018- 2020). International financial institutions and donors also announced €17.2 billion/$21.2 billion in loans. The European Commission itself pledged €560 million /$691 million for 2018 for Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and the same level of funding for 2019.  According to the latest financial tracking report published in September 2018, donors have already contributed 95% of the total pledge for 2018 (€3.3 billion/$4.1 billion). At the first Brussels Conference, a year earlier, the international community confirmed 5.6 billion/$6.0 billion in funding to support humanitarian, resilience and development activities in 2017 for Syria crisis response, out of which €3.7 billion/$4 billion came from the EU and its Member States. The financial tracking report of pledges from Brussels I published in April 2018 showed that donors contributed €7billion/$7.5 billion in grants for the year 2017 for Syria and the neighbouring countries affected by the crisis (Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt), thus exceeding by 26% the original pledge of €5.6 billion/$6 billion.  


Humanitarian assistance

Since 2011, the European Commission has provided €1.65 billion in life-saving humanitarian situation to those in need in Syria and beyond.

The EU funds humanitarian programmes implemented by its partners such as United Nations agencies, International Organisations and International NGOs. All EU partners are required to follow the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence, irrespective of political, religious or ethnic affiliations of beneficiaries and responding exclusively to humanitarian needs.

Through our humanitarian aid inside Syria, we are reaching millions of people across the country, providing first-line emergency response and post-emergency response in the following key sectors: food; health; shelter and emergency house items; water; sanitation and hygiene; protection and education in emergency. The EU also supports humanitarian partners to preposition stock and contingency planning to anticipate new population movements.

However, the humanitarian and protection situation remains extremely difficult for civilians in many parts of the country, including where fighting is still ongoing, with persisting food, health and protection needs as well as lack of access to basic services and life-saving commodities. While humanitarian convoys have recently finally gained access to some of the hard to reach areas in South and Central Syria, access to the estimated 2.9 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged areas remains a significant challenge and a violation of the UNSC Resolution 2401 in particular.

The EU has continuously called for an effective ceasefire, for respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and of human rights law, the protection of civilians, especially children, women and other vulnerable groups. The EU insists on an end to the indiscriminate and targeted bombing of civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals and humanitarian facilities. The EU also calls for the protection of relief aid workers and for unhindered, unconditioned and sustained humanitarian access to all those in need.

In neighbouring countries hosting refugees (Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon), the EU also provides substantial support to more than 2.5 million vulnerable refugees and host communities in accessing shelter, cash assistance, life-saving health and medical assistance as well as psycho-social support and protection in 2017 alone.

Thanks to lifesaving humanitarian aid provided by the European Commission since the beginning of the crisis:

  • some 2 million people have gained access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene items,
  • more than 4 million people received health assistance
  • 850 000 people have received food,
  • 1 million people have received essential items and shelter,
  • 350 000 children have been covered by child protection programmes.
  • more than 2 million children under five are receiving vaccines
  • thousands of out of school children have been benefiting of education in emergency programmes

In 2018, the EU allocated €280 million in humanitarian assistance to millions of vulnerable Syrians inside the country and to refugees who fled to neighbouring countries. Of this amount, €140 million was for inside Syria.

Inside Syria, almost half of the EU’s humanitarian assistance is directed to critical life-saving operations; the rest is spent providing safe drinking water, water, hygiene and sanitation assistance, food, child protection activities, essential items, Education in Emergency and psycho-social support.

In Lebanon, the EU provides cash assistance, secondary healthcare, Education in Emergency and shelters (including water, hygiene and sanitation) to improve the often very poor living conditions of displaced families. EU partners regularly monitor the main protection concerns and provide awareness, counselling and legal assistance. Since 2012, the EU’s humanitarian aid to Lebanon has reached around 750,000 Syrians. For 2018, EU humanitarian funding amounted to €80 million.

In Jordan, the EU supports almost 660,000 Syrian refugees, most of them women and children, through cash assistance, protection of vulnerable people, health and winterisation programmes, among other activities. In 2017, €55 million of EU humanitarian funding allocated to Jordan also targeted the humanitarian needs of more than 45,000 refugees stranded along its north-eastern border with Syria and Iraq (the Berm). A further €36 million has been allocated for 2018.

In Egypt, which hosts 233,00 registered refugees and asylum seekers from which 130,300 are from Syria, the EU has allocated €7.9 million to help refugees living in substandard conditions in urban areas, through programmes dedicated to the protection of vulnerable people, health assistance, Education in Emergency and cash assistance for 2016 and 2017. An additional €4 million is earmarked for 2018.


Non-humanitarian assistance

The Commission has mobilised over €3.4 billion in non-humanitarian aid, including:

The EU established in 2014 the EU Regional Trust Fund (EUTF) in response to the Syrian crisis, and a significant portion of the above funding, €1,428 million, ie. most of the EU's non-humanitarian aid in response to the crisis, has been channelled through this Fund.

The EUTF aims to bring a more coherent and integrated EU response to the crisis by merging various EU financial instruments and contributions from Member States into one single flexible mechanism for quick disbursement. The EUTF primarily addresses longer term resilience needs of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, as well as the hosting communities and their administrations.

With contributions and pledges from 22 EU Member States and Turkey, amounting to €150 million, and contributions from various EU instruments, the Fund has reached a volume of €1.5 billion to date. Projects focusing on education, livelihoods, health, socio-economic support, water and waste infrastructure have already been approved, covering a total of €1.213 million. Of this, €970 million has been contracted, translating into over 50 projects with the Trust Fund’s implementing partners on the ground, together reaching more than 2 million beneficiaries.


The first 21 projects of the Fund are already showing results:

  • 453,552 refugee and host community children and youth obtain improved access to quality education, protection, and psycho-social support.
  • 253 schools and education facilities are constructed and renovated.
  • 28,520 refugee and host community youth are gaining access to higher and further education and vocational training, among which 4,437 full scholarships and 6,126 language trainings.
  • Access to quality emergency health, maternal and child care for Syrian refugees and host communities is improved: 209,000 vulnerable beneficiaries receive medical care and essential medicines.
  • 462,491 refugees and members of host communities improve their economic self-reliance and livelihoods through different vocational, employability and skills trainings, SME support and access to the job market.

Since the onset of the Syrian crisis, the EU has provided substantial non-humanitarian assistance to the Syrian population inside Syria through the European Neighbourhood Instrument, targeting in particular education, livelihoods, health and civil society support.

Thanks to this financial support, over 85,000 children have received formal and informal (basic and primary) education in a safe and accessible learning environment since 2016. Nearly 320,000 pre-primary and primary school children benefited from a school funding programme and received Fortified School Snacks with the essential nutrition and energy to remain concentrated at school; almost 11,300 households received seeds, fertilizers, tools and cash assistance for farming activities in 2016 and 2017; and almost 200,000 people (among whom nearly 110,000 women) benefitted from the rehabilitation of infrastructure and service facilities in North West Syria in 2016 and 2017.

Under the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) the EU has also focused on a range of issues – support international and local mediation initiatives, foster civil society's role in post-conflict planning, promote women's rights, strengthen inclusive local governance, while deploying non-humanitarian assistance in response to specific crisis in opposition held areas.

As part of the IcSP contribution, a Syria Peace Process Support Initiative has been in place since 2016, in partnership with Germany.  The Initiative is intended to support the implementation of UNSCR 2254 and the UN-led Geneva peace process. It provides support for those involved in the peace process, for the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, for networks of civil society and of women, and for peacebuilding and mediation activities in general.

€10m in IcSP funding was also made available in June 2018 to enable demining in areas liberated from Da'esh by the Global Coalition, particularly in Deir El-Zor Governorate, and in Al-Raqqa Governorate and in the city itself.  This demining work is intended to make infrastructure and land safe for use once again, and also includes mine risk education for local populations, for returnees and for displaced people.  This project is part the EU's contribution to the work of the Coalition's Stabilisation Working Group. 

In addition, EU funds from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights have supported the protection of Human Rights Defenders as well as capacity-building support for Syrian journalists.


Assistance to neighbouring countries

With Syrians fleeing the conflict to neighbouring countries since the start of the crisis, these countries are now hosting an unprecedented number of refugees. The European Union is strongly supporting Syrian refugees and their host communities in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.



In Jordan there are over 650,000 Syrian registered refugees, half of whom are children. EU leaders have met Jordan representatives and visited the country many times throughout the last five years.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the European Commission has allocated more than €1,206 million in assistance to refugees and vulnerable communities. This includes close to €340 million from the humanitarian budget, €380 million from the Macro Financial Assistance (MFA) Instrument, over €230 million from the ENI/European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, €212 million from the EU Trust Fund for the Syrian crisis and more than €45 million from the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP). The Commission’s humanitarian aid has helped Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities to access health, food and basic needs assistance, winterisation support, shelter, water and sanitation, psychosocial support and protection. With some 80% of the refugees in Jordan living in urban settings, the Commission supports the most vulnerable refugees and finances specific programmes to support women and children's needs, since approximately 51% of the refugees are children. The EU remains particularly concerned by the situation at the border with Syria where about 50,000 people remain stranded with little access to relief aid.

In addition, the EU has made available, mostly through Budget Support, an average of €100 million each year in bilateral assistance (all grants) to Jordan under the European Neighbourhood policy, which brings the overall amount to over €1.8 billion.



The EU pays tribute to the outstanding efforts Lebanon is making since the outset of the conflict. The country hosts some 976,000 registered Syrian refugees representing one fourth of the Lebanese population, the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide. The 2018 Brussels Conference welcomed the Lebanese government's Vision for Stabilisation, Growth and Employment, with Capital Investment Programme, and the government's commitment to establish a timetable for reforms. 

To date, the European Commission has allocated more than €1.3 billion in assistance to Lebanon since 2011, both for bilateral assistance (€268 million) and specifically in response to the Syrian crisis (over €1 billion).

This assistance includes €519 million in humanitarian aid, plus assistance intended to address the longer-term resilience needs of affected civilians.  This includes: over €835.8 million for development support from the European Neighbourhood Instrument (€268m); the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (€512.8 million); the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (€47.5 million); and the Development Cooperation Instrument (€7.5 million).



In Turkey there are over 3.5 million registered Syrian refugees, meaning that Turkey hosts a larger absolute number of refugees than any other country in the world. In March 2016, the EU confirmed that the EU would provide financial assistance to Turkey against its efforts to host refugees within the framework of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.  This assistance would be provided in two tranches of €3 billion.  The Facility focuses on humanitarian assistance, education, migration management, health, socio-economic support, and municipal infrastructure.  The first tranche, made up from the 2016 and 2017 budgets, was committed and contracted by the end of last year (72 projects),[1] and more than €1.9 billion has been disbursed to date.  The balance will be disbursed according to implementation.  In June 2018 the EU agreed to mobilise the second tranche in 2018 and 2019.  Some €450 million has already been committed, with the balance due for commitment by the end of 2019.


Examples of work done through the facility:

The Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) is the EU biggest ever humanitarian programme. It provides monthly cash payments directly to refugees through a debit card to help meet their basic needs, and as of February 2018 almost 1.2 million refugees had benefited. The EU has committed EUR 998 million to the programme. The Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE) provides direct cash payments to refugee families whose children have at least 80% school attendance. It is the EU biggest ever Education in Emergencies programme, with EUR 84 million of EU investment. It has supported over 260,000 children to date.

Under the non-humanitarian strand of the Facility, the majority of contracts were signed towards the end of 2017, implementation of most projects started only in 2018. However, some projects have already had a significant impact on the ground. For example, under the main education project "Promoting Integration of Syrian Children into Turkish Education System", a EUR 300 million direct grant with the Turkish Ministry of National Education 312,151 children have received Turkish language training by 5,486 Turkish language teachers employed under the project as of October 2017. Meanwhile the main pillar of health assistance is the SIHHAT project, a EUR 300 million direct grant with the Turkish Ministry of Health to ensure refugees' access to healthcare services. Under the SIHHAT project, 12 Migrant Health Centres have become operational as of 31 December 2017, to improve primary healthcare services.



Closely linked to the Syria crisis is the crisis in Iraq. The Iraq crisis –like Syria - is a UN Level-3 emergency with 11 million people in need of humanitarian aid, in a country of 36 million. This includes 3 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and 247000 refugees from Syria.

The European Commission is stepping up its humanitarian assistance to help the most vulnerable in Iraq. The initial allocation for 2017 of €42.5 million comes on top of over €159 million in humanitarian assistance already made available in 2016 and the delivery of 266 tons of aid offered by countries through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism in response to Mosul emergency. In 2018 the EU allocated an additional €40 million euro in support of humanitarian aid. EU aid is covering the essential needs of the most vulnerable in Iraq, including food, health care, water, sanitation and hygiene as well as protection, shelter and education in emergencies.




The EU restrictive measures on Syria consist of:

  • Prohibition on the import of arms and related material from Syria. Export restrictions on certain equipment, goods and technology that might be used for internal repression or for the manufacture or maintenance of such products. The measure includes a prohibition on related financial assistance as well as insurance and reinsurance.
  • Obligation for member states to inspect vessels and aircraft if there are reasonable grounds to believe they carry arms, related material or equipment which might be used for internal repression. This applies in member states' seaports, airports and in their territorial sea, in accordance with international law. Items that may not be exported from the EU to Syria must be seized.
  • Import ban on crude oil and petroleum products from Syria. The prohibition concerns import, purchase and transport of such products as well as related finance and insurance. The ban also includes a prohibition on related technical and financial assistance. Under certain conditions, member states may authorise derogations from this prohibition.
  • Ban on investment in the Syrian oil industry. This covers loans and credits, acquisition or extension of participations and the creation of joint ventures. Under certain conditions, member states may authorise derogations from this prohibition.
  • Ban on investment in companies engaged in the construction of new power plants for electricity production in Syria.
  • Prohibition to participate in the construction of new power plants, including related technical or financial assistance.
  • Ban on exports to Syria of key equipment and technology for the oil and gas industry. The ban also includes a prohibition on related technical and financial assistance. Under certain conditions, member states may authorise derogations from this prohibition.
  • Ban on trade in goods belonging to Syria's cultural heritage which have been illegally removed from Syria with the objective of facilitating the safe return of those goods.
  • The assets of the Syrian central bank within the EU are frozen and it is prohibited to make funds or economic resources available, but the provision allows for legitimate trade to continue under strict conditions.
  • Ban on trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Syrian public bodies and the central bank.
  • Ban on supplying banknotes and coinage to the Syrian central bank.
  • Member states must not give new grants and concessional loans to the Syrian government.
  • The freezing of the assets of and a travel ban on 259 individuals and 67 entities responsible for or associated with the violent repression against Syria's civilian population, supporting or benefiting from the regime, or meeting certain status-based criteria. Funds or economic resources otherwise frozen may be released in whole or in part, under certain conditions, if intended, inter alia, for humanitarian purposes; for evacuations from Syria; or in order to make payments on behalf of the Syrian Arab Republic to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), for activities related to the OPCW verification mission and the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.
  • Export ban on equipment, technology or software primarily intended for monitoring or interception of the internet or telephone communications.
  • No disbursements and payments in connection with existing loan agreements between Syria and the European Investment Bank, as well as the suspension of technical assistance contracts relating to projects in Syria.
  • Prohibition to trade Syrian public or public-guaranteed bonds to or from the government of Syria or its public bodies and Syrian financial institutions. No brokering or issuing services for such bonds are allowed.
  • Prohibition for Syrian financial institutions to open new branches or subsidiaries in the EU or to establish new joint ventures or new correspondent banking relationships with EU banks.
  • EU banks are prohibited from opening offices or accounts in Syria. Under certain conditions, member states may authorise derogations from this prohibition.
  • Member states are to restrain short and medium term financial support for trade with Syria, including export credits, guarantees and insurance. No more long-term support.
  • No insurance or re-insurance to the Syrian government, public bodies, corporations or agencies (except health and travel insurance or compulsory third party insurance for Syrian persons or entities in the EU).
  • Cargo flights operated by Syrian carriers and all flights operated by Syrian Arab Airlines may not have access to EU airports.
  • Prohibition to export luxury goods to Syria.
  • Prohibition on the export of aviation fuel to Syria.


For more information, see legislation instituting these restrictive measures and Frequently Asked Questions on EU restrictive measures.