Forced migration case study: Syrian refugees


We first began looking at the issue of Syrian refugees in Geography in GCSE and A level in March 2015, mainly concentrating on the refugees being hosted in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

By the autumn of 2015, when the next students were looking at the problem for a Migration case study, the whole situation had become quite different because of the enormous Syrian refugee stream from Turkey into Europe.  This became the main emphasis of the case study, as European countries struggled to cope with the numbers of refugees arriving in Greece and making their way to northern European countries.

By autumn of 2016 the character of the refugee situation had changed again, with pressure being put on Turkey to guard its borders and EU funding to help Turkey meet the needs of the refugees from Syria.  Also, it would be useful to note the connection between the concerns over migration and the UK’s decision to leave the EU (“Brexit”).

Aleppo school children receive winter clothes from UNHCR delivery 13 March 2015

Syria: Aleppo school children receive winter clothes from UNHCR delivery 13 March 2015.  (Click on photo to follow link to UNHCR site.)


This case study examines a current forced migration stream: the international stream of refugees from Syria.  We examine the refugee crisis in Lebanon and also compare the stream of internally displaced persons (common abbreviation IDP) within Iraq.

The connecting push factor in both cases is the experience of extreme violence and terror In Syria the repression of the Assad regime (bombing and shelling towns and cities) together with emergence of fundamentalist Muslim terrorist armies (and the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State are just one faction among many), have both served to displace millions of Syrian civilians.

The conflict in Syria began as a civil war but spilled over into Iraq when the ISIS terrorist army declared Syria and neighbouring Iraq an Islamic “Caliphate” where international borders are regarded as irrelevant. The complexities of the political and religious problems only concern our study as a starting point, for we are concerned with the various refugee and IDP migration streams that have resulted from the real fears of various religious and ethnic groups that they will be slaughtered, taken into captivity by terrorists, or simply have to live under a harsh Islamic regime in which beheadings and other atrocities are an everyday part of their rule. Closer to the Damascus-controlled Assad regime, the fear is of traditional military force being used by the government on its own people.  The Russian military has now entered the conflict with a massive increase of aircraft, armour and troops.

ISIS (1)ISIS (2)SU 30 in Latakiaeffects of bombing

While the political and religious conflict in the region provides additional background reading – and you are welcome to explore it to broaden your understanding of current affairs – we are only interested for this study in how the conflict results in an extreme push factor creating some of the largest refugee and IDP streams.  The vast number of refugees resulting from this conflict is putting strains on neighbouring countries like Lebanon, with external refugee streams. There are also internal movements of thousands of IDPs putting strain on internal host communities within these countries. We will examine the situation in Iraq. Our material for these multiple humanitarian crises will be as current as we can make it, and this page contains useful links.

Syrian refugees making their way into Turkey

Syrian refugees making their way over the international border

1. International stream of refugees from Syria to Lebanon

1.i. A statement from a BBC report 12th March 2015 to mark fourth anniversary of the Syrian civil war: “The United Nations Security Council has failed in its duty to end the war in Syria, according to a report by a global coalition of aid agencies.” Read the full report here:

1.ii. BBC fact file on the Syria conflict and the number of refugees it has created:

1.iii. There are 4.25 million internally displaced people within Syria itself. The Syrian refugee camp at Zaatari in Jordan – about 12km (eight miles) from the Syrian border – is the world’s second-largest refugee camp – behind Dadaab in eastern Kenya – and has become the fourth largest city in Jordan.:

2. The “Failing Syria” report:

  • People are not protected: 2014 was the deadliest year of the conflict in Syria, with at least 76,000 Syrians killed
  • Aid access has not improved: 4.8 million people in need reside in areas defined by the UN as “hard to reach”, one million more than in 2013
  • Needs have increased: 5.6 million children are in need of aid, a 31% increase since 2013
  • The humanitarian response has decreased compared to needs: in 2013, 71% of the funds needed to support civilians inside Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries were provided. In 2014, this had declined to 57%
  • Separate analysis by another group of charities says 83% of Syria’s lights visible from space have gone out.
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3. Refugee numbers: economic & social effects on Lebanon

Numbers of refugees from Syria March 2015

Numbers of refugees from Syria March 2015

Refugee camp in Lebanon

Refugee camp in Lebanon

3.i. BBC file on the numbers of Syrian refugees:

Syrian refugee family in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon

Syrian refugee family in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon

3.ii. Lebanon has 1,200,000 Syrian refugees. It is a good example of the burden placed on a small country.  See the CIA Factbook for the economic and population details for Lebanon. (The refugee figure quoted there is already out-of-date, so ignore that figure which is properly checked on the UNHCR site.)

3.iii. Article about the economic effects on Lebanon of the Syrian refugee stream:

3.iv. UNHCR Lebanon  The projected number will rise by another 400,000 in 2015

UNHCR planning figures

What is the EU doing to help the Syrian refugee crisis? See this website which incidentally shows asylum applications and humanitarian aid per country:

4.i. Seeking asylum in Europe.  

The key document that sets out the rights of refugees is the 1951 Geneva Convention (full copy here 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees.)  In this convention signed by all the world’s main states at that time, we read “considering that the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and that a satisfactory solution of a problem of which the United Nations has recognized the international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international co-operation.”  In other words, countries signing this convention agree that the burden should not fall on some countries but should be widely shared.

In the light of this, we would do well to explore the current Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, for example, and see what the reality is when Syrian refugees apply for asylum in Europe.  If you are one of the 1.4 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, how would you apply for asylum in Europe?

A Syrian child stands barefoot outside a tent at a camp in Lebanon (CNS photo/Brooke Anderson) Catholic Herald March 2015

A Syrian child stands barefoot outside a tent at a camp in Lebanon (CNS photo/Brooke Anderson) Catholic Herald March 2015

4.Intervening obstacles for refugees: documentation

Common European Asylum System. In the EU, an area of open borders and freedom of movement, countries share the same fundamental values and States need to have a joint approach to guarantee high standards of protection for refugees. Procedures must at the same time be fair and effective throughout the EU and impervious to abuse. With this in mind, the EU States have committed to establishing a Common European Asylum System.

5. 2015 Syrian refugee movements in Europe

Lebanon film from earlier in 2015 showing Syrian refugee crisis:

“We Walk Together”  Syrians move into the heart of Europe:

Two Brookings Institute articles on refugee movement into Europe: original articles & Word version

Why 100


Why Europe can

6. UPDATE  November 2016

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States will throw into question any further resettlement of refugees from Syria in the US.  So far 13,000 have been accepted.

7. Comparison: Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq

Useful sites:


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