Syria after the ‘Arab Spring’: Eight key facts

Five years ago, Bashar al-Assad’s government brutally suppressed mass protests which began on 15 March 2011. The violent response sparked the region’s most severe armed conflict.

1. More than 250,000 people have been killed, according to the UN. War crimes and crimes against humanity are rife.

2. Since then, more than 11 million people have been forced from their homes, including around 7 million people within Syria and more than 4 million who are now refugees abroad, mostly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Tens of thousands of refugees from Syria have also fled to Europe, often risking their lives in the process.

3. Government forces have repeatedly shelled and bombed civilian areas using indiscriminate weapons, including barrel bombs. They’ve also bombed hospitals, targeted medical workers and mounted long-running sieges of opposition-held areas, depriving people of food, medicines and other necessities. According to Physicians for Human Rights, 112 medical facilities were attacked in 2015 alone, the majority by government forces.   

How can I describe what his disappearance has done to me? It is like I have lost a part of myself and my soul… It is our right to know his fate.

Friend of Mohamed Bachir Arab, a doctor and activist missing since his arrest in November 2011.

4. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, approximately 65,000 people have been arrested by government security forces and are now missing in a network of unofficial detention centres. Others have been jailed for helping people forced from their homes by the fighting, or for speaking out about the situation in Syria. Lawyers, doctors and journalists have been locked up just for doing their jobs. 

5. Intelligence agencies and other government forces continue to use torture on a massive scale. Thousands have died in custody since 2011 due to torture and other factors, including lack of food and medical access. 

6. The armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) has shelled civilian areas and killed scores of civilians and prisoners. The group has abducted, tortured and executed journalists, peaceful activists and other perceived opponents. IS also besieges civilian areas, which means people struggle to get food, medical supplies and other necessities.  

7. Other armed groups including Jabhat al-Nusra have also attacked civilian areas, abducted suspected opponents and killed captives.

8. Russian air strikes in support of the al-Assad government have killed hundreds of civilians and struck medical facilities.