No one, not even donors and humanitarian agencies, is certain about which policies and interventions are effective for the Syrian refugee crisis. According to researchers, billions worth of donations are useless unless governments and NGOs of wealthy nations do more or create longer term, evidence-based solutions.

There are over 4.3 million Syrian refugees and more than half are under the age of 18. Approaches to alleviate the problem have often been only for short-term and most have little evidence that these actually work, so the refugees’ education and livelihoods will not stop deteriorating.

According to Adam Coutts, a Cambridge University researcher and a member of the Syria Public Health Network (SPHN), a more scientific approach is needed to combat the refugee crisis so the allocated funds will not go to waste. Currently, NGOs and governments are not doing enough to find out whether the health, education and labour market policies actually work.

“A focus on health and health services is notably absent in the donor conference agenda yet it is a fundamental determinant on the success of education and livelihoods policies,” Coutts notes. “What funding there is for refugee healthcare risks disappearing unless governments insist on an evidence basis for aid allocation, similar to that expected in domestic policy-making.”


Almost half of the refugees in some camps in Turkey and Lebanon have been diagnosed with high levels of psychological distress. The researchers say that the number can still add up because many Syrians live outside the camps.

However, individuals with the condition may not even receive medical care due the lack of health facilities and health care professionals. Apparently, there are only 71 psychiatrists working in Lebanon and the number of Syrian mental health workers has fallen to 60 from 100 because neighbouring countries do not allow them to practice their specialty on their soil.

“To date, Syrian medical workers in Lebanon and Jordan are a largely untapped workforce who are ready to work and help with the response,” SPHN member Aula Abbara remarks. “However, due to labour laws and the dominance of private health service providers, it is very difficult if not impossible for them to work legally.”

Nevertheless, studies conducted in Turkish camps have shown that telemental projects, which delivers care through telecommunications, are effective in supporting health workers on the ground. Still, SPHN members insist that adequate testing is required.