As the crisis in Syria moves into its second decade, a survey commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross highlights the heavy price paid by young Syrians.
The humanitarian charity surveyed 1,400 Syrians between the ages of 18-25 based in Syria, Lebanon and Germany.
Across the three countries, young people spoke of families and friendships torn apart, immense economic hardship and worry, frustrated ambitions, missed milestones and the profound psychological toll of years of relentless violence and disruption.
A decade of loss
“This has been a decade of savage loss for all Syrians. For young people in particular, the last ten years have been marked by loss of loved ones, loss of opportunities and loss of control over their future,” said Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s Geneva-based director-general.
“The survey is a somber snapshot of a generation who lost their adolescence and young adulthood to the conflict,” he added.
In a country where more than half the population are under the age of 25, the survey is a glimpse of what millions have endured over the last ten years.
It found that in Syria, almost one in two young people (47 percent) said a close relative or friend had been killed in the conflict. One in six young Syrians said at least one of their parents was killed or seriously injured (16 percent). A further 12 percent had themselves been injured in the conflict.
It also found 54 percent had lost contact with a close relative. In Lebanon this rises to almost seven in ten.
In total, 62 percent reported having to leave their homes, either within Syria or abroad, while nearly half had lost their income because of the conflict (49 percent), and nearly eight in ten (77 percent) reported struggling to find or afford food and necessities. In Syria, this rose to 85 percent.
The survey found 57 percent reported missing years of education, if they went at all, while one in five reported postponing marriage plans because of the conflict.
Rami Asfar, 29, left his hometown Hama to move to Aleppo during the conflict. He said the decision to leave was one he will never forget.
“This war changed my life completely. I’m changed where I live, my ambitions, all my plans. I even changed my university major. I’ve been forced to find better conditions in these bad ones."
Ahmad, originally from Homs and living in Lebanon, says his situation is worsening by day.
“I had more money when I was 10 years old than now when I am 24. I have nothing of my personal belongings I used to have at home. I used to have my own wardrobe, desk and computer."
Iman Shebli, 26, lived in Lebanon with her family for several years before moving to Barcelona to study.
“I started from zero. People around me told me it is difficult to find a job because of economic problems and the coronavirus situation,” she said.
In the survey, economic opportunities and jobs top young Syrians’ list of what they need most, followed by healthcare, education and psychological support. Women have been particularly hard-hit economically, with almost 30 percent in Syria reporting no income at all to support their family.
Young Syrians in Lebanon report humanitarian assistance among their top needs.
Mental health impact
The conflict’s impact on mental health is also clear. In the past 12 months, young people in Syria have experienced sleep disorders (54 percent), anxiety (73 percent), depression (58 percent), solitude (46 percent), frustration (62 percent) and distress (69 percent) because of the conflict.
In all three countries, young Syrians said access to psychological support was one of the things they needed most.
Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s Geneva-based regional director for the Near and Middle East, said: “These young people are now facing their second decade of this agonizing crisis.”
“What is so poignant about their situation is that, having lost much of their childhood and teenage years to the violence, this generation will likely shoulder much of the responsibility and work of reconstruction. Their children’s lives will be marked by this conflict, too.”
The conflict in Syria has been breathtakingly brutal for civilians, characterized by destruction of cities and towns on a vast scale, massive internal displacement and a refugee crisis that has reverberated across the world. In the past year, millions of people have been pushed deeper into poverty by the worst economic crisis since the conflict began, compounded by the impact of sanctions and the global COVID-19 pandemic. Some 13.4 million people (out of roughly 18 million) need humanitarian assistance.
Despite everything, most young Syrians surveyed said they are optimistic about the future.
Their hopes and ambitions for the next decade are universally recognizable: safety and stability, a chance to have a family and a well-paid job, affordable and accessible healthcare and services, and an end to the upheaval and conflict.