Photo by Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Letter from the Executive Director

2019 was the year my country faced the worst of the conflict so far and international action dropped to an all-time low. It was a year of resounding silence from world leaders as Russian and Syrian regime bombs killed people as they slept, shopped, and studied. The year the US abandoned millions of civilians in the northeast, and the UN stood by as Turkey forced families from their homes under the guise of establishing a safe zone. It was the year that the world celebrated the end of ISIS, while Syrians who fought against the group’s ideology continued to stand up to other extremist forces.

To say that my feelings about 2019 are those of anger and disappointment is an understatement. Yet as I reflect on everything we did together, I feel immensely proud. Proud of our small team at The Syria Campaign and proud to be a Syrian woman. 

My pride is rooted in the amazing groups and individuals I get to support every day. The Syrian women who inspire me and countless others. The ones that make what I do the best job I could have ever dreamed of. 

Women like Waad al-Kateab, whose BAFTA-winning documentary For Sama celebrates her love for her daughter and follows the heroic doctors trying to save lives while under siege in Aleppo.

Women like Amal Hamo, the White Helmets volunteer who is not only risking her life to save others, but also challenging the men in her community who wouldn’t accept the idea of a woman working in search and rescue. 

Women like Fadwa Mahmoud, whose husband and son were arrested and disappeared by Syrian security forces eight years ago and haven’t been heard from since. Fadwa’s tragedy moved her to co-found the women-led movement Families for Freedom, which advocates for the release of all detainees in Syria. Fadwa never tires – I once asked her as we were knocking on the doors of decision-makers in Europe if she needed a break. She looked at me with determination and said, “no break until we get heard.”  

At The Syria Campaign, we are committed to elevating the voices and demands of Waad, Amal, Fadwa, and the numerous other groups and individuals who are working for a free and democratic future for Syria. In 2020, we will continue the fight. 

We need to keep the spotlight on stories of hope and elevate the demands for protection from human rights activists and humanitarians in northern Syria. We need to ensure that every detained and forcibly disappeared person in Syria is free, recognising justice and accountability for detainees as a central issue for any peace process. We need to challenge the United Nations’ conduct in Syria and fight against the forced return of refugees. We need to ensure the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people get the medical care and equipment they need in the face of a global pandemic. And we need to resist any attempts to rehabilitate Assad’s regime, which continues to inflict unending abuses on civilians. 

Thank you so much to every supporter, donor, and partner who worked with us in 2019. Your solidarity means everything. 

With the deepest gratitude, 


Executive Director, The Syria Campaign 

2019 in numbers

It has been nine years since the Syrian uprising began, when those who dreamed of a free and peaceful Syria thought that it might finally come true. Since then, unimaginable horrors have been inflicted on the country, and the world’s attention has waned with every new year. In 2019, international action on Syria was virtually non-existent, but heroic activism and lifesaving work within the country was stronger than ever. 

Throughout 2019, we were, as always, guided by our incredible partners in Syria, whose strength and courage continues to amaze us. We partnered with doctors, filmmakers, activists, humanitarians, rescue workers, and campaigners, and we’re truly proud of what we were able to achieve together.

raised to support rescue workers, educators, and journalists inside Syria


High profile medics who signed an open letter demanding an end to the bombing of hospitals


Meetings arranged with policymakers for our partner organisations


Campaign actions by our supports in response to our emails, petitions and calls to action


Media stories told alongside our Syrian partners

Sounding the alarm on Idlib

Photo: Ibrahim Yasouf. Students play on the destroyed roof of their school that was bombed by the Syrian regime. Jesr al-Shughur, January 2019.

Assad’s onslaught against his own people continued unabated in northwest Syria in 2019. Syrian forces killed 1,328 civilians, including 324 children, while their Russian allies killed 320 civilians, including 68 children. Together, they bombed 159 schools, 68 hospitals and medical centres, and 55 White Helmets centres.

Raed al-Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, has described the humanitarian crisis in the northwest as the worst of the conflict so far. More than one million people fled their homes between February and November of 2019 while funding cuts from international governments meant children had to leave school and displaced people were forced to shelter under trees with no tent or tarpaulin for protection and little to no sanitation services.

As doctors and medical workers and public health professionals from around the world, we condemn the Syrian and Russian governments in the strongest possible terms for their attacks on medical facilities. We stand in solidarity with our Syrian colleagues on the ground who are risking their lives to help those in need. We demand immediate measures to protect their lives and their work.

Open Letter: Stop the War on Syria’s Hospitals

Hospitals in Idlib: the most dangerous place to be

In June we organised a joint letter signed by dozens of internationally-renowned medics, including Nobel laureates. The letter condemned the regime and Russia’s bombing of healthcare facilities across northwest Syria,  international humanitarian law. It was published as an exclusive by the British newspaper the Observer, which wrote an article about the letter and published it in full. It was further covered by a range of leading media organisations, including the New York Times, CBC, the Independent, and Al Jazeera. Signatories included Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Denis Mukwege and Dr. Peter Agre, a physician who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2003. The letter played an important role in bringing more international attention to the impact of the regime and Russia’s targeting of healthcare facilities. 

Today I ask the United Nations and the international community to finally step up with urgency and increase funding for shelter, water and sanitation, health and education in north-west Syria. They must pressure the Syrian regime and Russia to abide by multiple UN resolutions and stop the attacks on civilians. Syria has been the UN’s catastrophic failure – but it’s not too late to act

Raed al-Saleh, the Head of the White Helmets, for Guardian Comment in October 2019.


On 4 July, Pope Francis was due to meet with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting came amid the regime and Russia’s escalating attacks on Idlib. The month before, Putin had remarked that Russian forces were gaining “practical experience” in Syria, which “they could not have obtained during any peacetime exercises”.

Along with a coalition of Syrian organisations, we launched a social media campaign around the hashtag #TellPutin, urging the Pope to bring up the bombing of Idlib with the Russian president. We worked with partners in Idlib who held up signs asking the Pope to use his meeting with Putin to urge him to stop his attacks against Syrian civilians.  The campaign was covered by 35 media outlets worldwide, including the Russian publication Novayagazeta, as well as Syria TV and the Vatican Press. On Twitter, the hashtag reached 5.6 million people, receiving more than 3,000 tweets from 1,300 users, including the head of Human Rights Watch. On Facebook, reach was around one million people.

In June we supported a group of volunteers in the UK who did public campaigning about the attacks on civilians in Idlib. The group projected images about Idlib onto buildings in central London.

Radio Fresh 

Every year, the One World Media Awards recognises the best journalism worldwide. One of its most prestigious prizes is the Special Award, which is given to “an independent media organisation based in a developing country using media to address social, cultural, political and economic issues”. We nominated Radio Fresh – an independent radio station in northwest Syria that speaks out against extremism, warns people of incoming airstrikes, and provides community programming. Radio Fresh won the Special Award, and we helped the current director of Radio Fresh, Abdulwareth Al Bakour, to attend the One World Media ceremony and collect the award.

Working with the White Helmets

In 2019, the Assad regime and Russia unleashed waves of attacks on northwest Syria, which devastated a region already reeling from eight years of conflict. The targeting of schools, hospitals, and medical centres left civilians with nowhere to hide. More than one million people fled their homes between February and November, and many of the displaced were forced to live outdoors without even tents for protection.

In the face of these attacks, White Helmets volunteers risked their lives every day to help their communities. They rescued 4,530 people, including 1,054 children, from under the rubble of bombed out buildings. Thirteen volunteers lost their lives trying to save others, while 50 others were injured as a result of double-tap strikes and direct targeting. 

At a time when many international donors were cutting their funding for projects in Syria, we worked to tell the world the stories of the White Helmets’ heroic work. We shared  their work online, countered disinformation attacks, and helped bring them face-to-face with key decision makers worldwide to generate more support for their work. Our support helped secure  stories about the White Helmets in NPR, Washington Post, The Guardian, and the BBC. We also supported White Helmets volunteers who had been resettled in the UK to tell their stories to the media.

In 2019, we supported five advocacy trips for the White Helmets. This included two visits to Washington, D.C., a trip to New York for the UN General Assembly, and travel to Brussels for a panel discussion around attacks on healthcare facilities at the EU’s Conference on the Future of Syria. Among the officials who met with the White Helmets were the US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, the US Special Representative for Syria Ambassador James Jeffrey, the US Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, US Senators Robert Menendez and Amy Klobuchar, France’s Representative for Syria Ambassador François Sénémaud, and the UK’s Special Envoy to Syria Martin Longden. The White Helmets also talked about their life-saving work to international policymakers at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada and the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in Arizona. 

Despite massive decreases in attention and funding for Syria, political and financial commitments to the White Helmets from international donors have remained strong. We are proud to have played a role in making sure the world recognises  their heroic work. By bringing their stories to the public and policymakers, we have been able to show how funding the White Helmets can help save lives in the most difficult circumstances. In 2019, our direct fundraising appeals for the White Helmets raised $730,000 for their work.

Thank you to The Syria Campaign. Your constant support to the White Helmets means a lot to us. It was my pleasure that I had the chance to tell you how grateful I am, especially for your support to the female volunteers. You also covered so many operations by our volunteers (men and women), whether they’re search and rescue missions, awareness campaigns or community services. Again, thank you for supporting our message and for standing by civilians in Syria.

Zahra Diab, Coordinator of the White Helmets’ women’s centres

USHMM Elie Wiesel Award

April 2019: Raed Al-Saleh accepts the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Elie Wiesel Award in Washington, D.C., in recognition of the White Helmets’ courage and dedication to saving others. 

Anas Al Dyab

On 21 July 2019, the Syrian regime and Russia bombed Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria, killing 23 civilians including photographer and White Helmets volunteer Anas al-Dyab. Anas died on duty documenting attacks against civilians in his hometown. His work was published and recognised by international media and his heroism was vital in exposing the targeting of civilians to the world. Despite being injured three times in his work, Anas refused to give up bearing witness to the relentless aerial attacks. 

Rest in peace, Anas al-Dyab (1997-2019).

A photo by Anas of a fellow member of the White Helmets carrying a wounded woman following a strike in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, February 2019.
Credit: Anas al-Dyab/AFP via Getty Images

Anas had the smiling face we needed most in the darkest days. There was no job he wouldn't do, a photographer, rescuer, firefighter, or even a clown to entertain the children. He loved his city Khan Sheikhoun so much and could never be far from it. Our hearts were broken when he was killed in duty in a double attack by Russian warplanes, it was unbelievable. A brother to us all, our White Helmets family will never be the same without him.

Mousa Al-Zidane, The White Helmets

Seeking justice for the disappeared

Photo: Artino Van Damas

Arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance have been used throughout the Syrian conflict. The great majority of people are detained by the regime but armed opposition groups and extremist groups like ISIS are also guilty of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. Detainees are subject to appalling conditions, food is scarce, disease rife, and torture the norm. To date, around 100,000 people remain missing in Syria. Though various governments have issued statements of condemnation, little has been done to hold the perpetrators to account or to pressure Assad to release detainees. The families whose loved ones have been tortured and killed in regime prisons or who are still missing are relentless in their calls for action. We stand with them and elevate their demands.  

Families for Freedom

Families for Freedom is a women-led movement of Syrian families demanding justice for the country’s detained and disappeared. Their campaign activities, including their iconic “Freedom Bus” and protests with framed photos of their missing loved ones, have become symbols of the struggle for justice in Syria.

In 2019, we helped organise Dr Hala Al Ghawi and Amina Khoulani’s address to the United Nations, and we facilitated their appearance at a Brussels conference attended by European leaders. We continued to connect them with journalists to help them tell their stories on social media and at events. The movement has expanded to  represent 250 families across Syria, Lebanon, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Germany, which is the latest country to form a national chapter. 

Throughout the year, members of  Families for Freedom were interviewed by NPR, the New York Times, Public Radio International, El Pais, and Al Jazeera. 

International Day of the Disappeared

Dozens of protesters gathered in Berlin in August, holding up photos of Syria’s missing. The event was held outside the Russian embassy to mark the International Day of the Disappeared. Protesters delivered a letter demanding that Russia uses its power to push for the release of Syria’s detainees.

Conference on the Future of Syria

In March 2019, the EU held the third Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region. We knew that the issue of detention needed to be top of the agenda, and so we teamed up with the Syrian organisations Dawlaty and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression to make this happen. Together, we sent a letter to the EU calling on it to ensure justice and accountability for the missing, and the Families For Freedom travelled to Brussels ahead of the conference to push for the issue to appear on the agenda. Thanks to our combined efforts, it did, for the first time. We also organised travel to the conference for members of Ta’afi and the Caesar Families Association – two organisations that campaign against detention and disappearance. The contributions of these groups were among the most powerful and memorable at the conference. Bringing family groups together for joint advocacy has helped improve coordination amongst the groups, which are now developing a joint charter on detention.

We also arranged for the Families for Freedom’s iconic red bus to go to Brussels for a public demonstration. With the bus stationed outside the EU’s offices, we live-streamed speeches from the assembled detention groups while attendees held photos of the missing. Visitors included representatives of governments and civil society groups from the conference itself. The visual nature of the event meant that it achieved widespread media coverage in the international press, including Al Araby, the National, and L’Orient le Jour. We also helped secure an opinion piece by Ahmad Helmi of Ta’afi in the German outlet, Taggesspiegel.  

Photo: Artino Van Damas

Demanding justice at the United Nations Security Council

Until 2019, the UN Security Council had never had a briefing on the issue of detainees and missing persons in Syria. That changed in August, when we successfully arranged for two members of the Families for Freedom, Dr Hala al Ghawi and Amina Khoulani, to address the Council. We supported Dr. Hala and Amina to deliver their key demands in the presence of Syrian and Russian delegates, and their powerful speeches were covered by the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, the Independent, and Public Radio International, as well as French, Spanish, and Arabic media outlets. The participation of the Families For Freedom was seen as a landmark moment in the struggle for justice for the disappeared and applauded by Syrian and international human rights organisations. Dr. Hala and Amina’s testimony was particularly appreciated by the families of the missing around the world, who shared messages of support and gratitude online.

There are signs that this UN-focused advocacy is having an impact. Following the Families for Freedom’s address and the work of other family associations, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, has publicly prioritised the issue of disappearance. 

A new, peaceful Syria can't be built while people are still being tortured and executed. We cannot move on without answers about our loved ones. If you fail in delivering the above, you will again fail the Syrian people, and we will hold you responsible.

Dr Hala Al Ghawi, speaking at the UN Security Council

Campaigning for those kidnapped by ISIS

ISIS has detained and disappeared thousands of people in territory it once held as part of its so-called caliphate. As the group retreated in northeast Syria, mass graves began to be discovered. We connected with activists in the area and families of the disappeared to see what we could do to help. It quickly became clear that there was little information about the missing and that the mass graves, which only held a fraction of the disappeared, were being exhumed without the specialist equipment and expertise required. Following research and interviews with people on the ground, we wrote a detailed briefing for media and decision makers. We also published a petition calling on the US-led International Coalition to Defeat ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces to find out what had happened to the missing. 

Nobody is thinking of the ISIS disappeared, they seem to be forgotten. However, we are still here waiting for answers about their fates.

Ensaf Nasr, Families for Freedom

We need answers. My brother’s name is neither with the living nor the dead. It is our right to know where the missing are.

Yasmin Mashaan, whose brother Bashar went missing in May 2014 in Deir Ezzor

We based our research and advocacy on the priorities of families whose loved ones had been kidnapped by ISIS. The briefing was a key resource for human rights organisations and media who were trying to find ways to address this issue. We also provided media and advocacy training to the families of those kidnapped by ISIS, helping in their efforts to get answers and justice for their loved ones.

Seeking answers about the Douma Four

In late 2013, four brave Syrian activists, Samira al-Khalil, Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hammadeh, and Nazem Hammadi were snatched from their place of work in the city of Douma, eastern Ghouta. They have not been seen since. The Douma Four, as they are now known, are prominent human rights defenders who were active in the Syrian revolution of 2011. Their commitment to democracy, equality, and justice made them an inspiration to so many Syrians who share that struggle.

The available clues about their disappearance strongly suggest the culpability of Jaysh al-Islam, which was the de facto authority in Douma at the time. After being displaced from Ghouta in 2018, many Jaysh al-Islam members live or travel regularly and freely in Turkey. Around the sixth anniversary of the Douma Four’s abduction, we worked with Samira al-Khalil’s husband, the Syrian writer and former political prisoner Yassin al-Haj Saleh to launch a campaign urging the United Nations and Turkey to take concrete steps to uncover the fate of the four abductees and give answers to their loved ones. Our petition received thousands of signatures. Although the Douma Four remain missing, these actions are vital ways of showing that the world is still paying attention and demands justice for them.

I found from The Syria Campaign an interest in the case of the kidnapped Douma Four, and care in making the details around it available to the public. I believe that these efforts are not in vain, even though Syria today may look like a black hole that swallows all the best efforts and does not leave a visible impact. But we are in a race with despair, and we will not let it overcome us.

Syrian writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh, husband of Samira al-Khalil of the Douma Four

Supporting civil society in northeast Syria

Communities in northeast Syria have not escaped indiscriminate attacks and arbitrary detention. In October 2019, Turkey launched a military offensive on the region, which has been governed by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) since its liberation from ISIS. The military incursion resulted in the displacement of thousands of Kurdish and Arab civilians. At that difficult moment, we highlighted the fears that civilians shared with us, helping to elevate their concerns in media coverage of the story. We also partnered with two civil society organisations in northeast Syria to identify critical funding needs and worked to identify suitable funding opportunities.

Italy’s U-turn on relations with Assad

In March 2019, Italy’s then-Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said his government was considering reopening Italy’s embassy in Damascus, a landmark move that would give Assad Italy’s backing, despite EU sanctions against the regime. More than 5,000 of our supporters responded by calling on Italy to rethink its decision. The campaign was picked up by the media, particularly Italian outlets, receiving coverage from The New Arab, Rai Radio3, and Publico. We were told that our voices had been heard at the highest level in Rome and that Italy would not be restoring political relations with the Syrian regime. It is vital that the international community does not restore normal diplomatic relations with the regime without a genuine political transition and accountability for perpetrators of war crimes. Our campaign helped ensure that European governments maintain a consistent line on this.

Calling out deportations to Syria

Since 2011, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, leaving behind their homes, jobs, and schools in search of safety elsewhere. In Turkey and Lebanon, which host the largest numbers of Syrian refugees, many live in overcrowded camps, often unable to legally work. In 2019, Turkey and Lebanon started cracking down on Syrian refugees, including starting deportations back to Syria. In October, we coordinated with 17 human rights organisations to send a joint letter to the EU and UN asking them to stop Turkey’s deportations of Syrian refugees. 

Refugee camp in Lebanon, December 2019. Photo by Sam Tarling

Our advocacy on this issue was in partnership with groups based in the region who face real restrictions on their ability to speak out on this issue. The ties between the Lebanese government and the Syrian regime means that refugees fear deportations and civil society groups fear crackdowns. In these circumstances, The Syria Campaign mobilised to interview and broadcast the views and experiences of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We launched a social media campaign based on the stories of Syrian women refugees and ran a training on human rights campaigning.

Celebrating Syria’s female journalists

Around the world, media freedoms are under attack. Nowhere is this more evident than in Syria where journalists and media activists have been arrested, tortured, and killed. In February, we hosted a screening of A Private War in London, about the life of journalist Marie Colvin who was targeted and killed by the Syrian army while covering the siege of Baba Amr in Homs in 2012. Our film screening featured a talk by the Oscar-nominated Syrian director Waad Al Kateab, A Private War’s director Matthew Heineman, and Paul Conroy, the photographer who was with Marie Colvin when she was killed. In March, we continued our work to promote media freedom, marking International Women’s Day by organising a panel event on Syrian women journalists with Amnesty International in London. The event was attended by several parliamentarians, including the minister for the Middle East, and the panel included Zeina Erhaim and Kholoud Helmi who spoke of their work as journalists in Syria. Also on the panel was the documentarian Sara Afshar, who made the film Syria’s Disappeared. 

In our regular updates from Syria, we focused on elevating the heroic work of reporters such as Merna al-Hasan and Hiba Barakat, and we have helped secure coverage for their work in international outlets. 

For Sama

For Sama is the unforgettable story of filmmaker Waad al-Kateab seen through five years of the Syrian uprising in Aleppo. A key focus of the film is the hospital where her husband, Hamza al-Kateab worked as a doctor despite repeated shelling and bombing attacks. In September, we helped arrange two screenings of Waad’s Oscar-nominated film in New York. The first was at the United Nations and the second was hosted by the UK Mission to the United Nations. The screenings, which were supported by the UK Mission, helped build support for a special briefing to the UN Security Council on the targeting of hospitals in Syria.

Remembering Raed Fares

Photo credit: Mohammed Abdullah-Artino

Raed Fares’ values and work are critical to the Syrian people, who long to live in a free country. His words are also particularly important to younger generations who have only known war, violence, and extremism. Fares’ work is equally inspiring for anyone struggling under a regime that denies basic human rights and free expression. For The Syria Campaign, the loss of Raed Fares in 2018 was devastating. But his mission and values will continue to be something we fight for every day. Fares’s achievements need to be highlighted and shared with the world to inspire those who are involved in the ongoing struggle to advance democracy and fundamental freedoms

Along with The Human Rights Foundation and Space Norway, The Syria Campaign curated an experiential exhibition about Raed Fares work at the Oslo Freedom Forum. The exhibition served as a memorial to the importance of independent reporting in closed societies like Syria, and the role independent media can play in countering extremist narratives. Additionally, visitors learned how Fares succeeded in building the foundations of a strong civil society and how he managed to inspire and draw the world’s attention to Syria.

Raed will always be associated with the Kafranbel banners, where anti-government demonstrators shared messages – some combative, others sarcastic, and many of them heartbreaking – that they hoped would elicit international interest in their cause. The Kafranbel banners remain a symbol of resistance against the Assad regime and ISIS. The Syria Campaign shipped some of the most inspiring banners, painted on bed sheets, from Syria to Norway for the exhibition. We also created a simulation of the Radio Fresh studio, where Fares and his team challenged Assad and the growing power of religious extremists. When extremist militias forbade Radio Fresh from allowing women to speak on the radio, they ran the female hosts’ voices through a software that made them sound like men. Visitors to the exhibition got to listen to this while recording news about the daily lives of civilians in Syria. The exhibition was attended by friends of Fares and those in the human rights community who wanted to pay tribute to him and his family. 

2019 Income and Expenses

Income Expenses

$200,000 (16%)
$1,050,000 (84%)
Total income
$82,000 (7%)
Management and Admin
$229,000 (19.5%)
(Campaigns, Media/Communications, and Program General)
$866,000 (73.6%)
Total expenses

In addition, we raised $730,000 for the White Helmets from 7323 supporters.

The figures listed here are for the year 2019 and are pre-audit.

Thank you

Our thanks go first to our Syrian partners; the men and women defending the rights and lives of all Syrians both inside and outside the country. You inspire us daily with your courage and defiance, and we are proud to stand with you as you continue to push for a better future for Syria and freedom and justice for all.

We also thank our thousands of dedicated supporters who continue to follow our calls to action and tirelessly call, email, and campaign for change in Syria. Your dedication inspires us constantly and motivates us to continue our work.

We thank our board for their expertise and guidance, and we thank the individuals and organisations who gave generously to us and helped us fund our work. Without you, we couldn’t do what we do, and we are so grateful for your support.

Funders and Partners