2017 Annual Report

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"In the future, when the fog of war finally lifts, the Syrian conflict will be viewed with the clarity that only history bestows.

Unfortunately this clarity will arrive too late for millions of Syrians whose lives have been upended by the cruel injustices they have suffered. History will reveal that beyond the complexities of the Syrian conflict with its lists of proxy powers and perpetrators, two truths stand in defiance. First: what happened in Syria was a genocide committed by the Syrian regime and its allies. Second: the international community watched as silent bystanders as hundreds of thousands of lives (if not over a million lives by the time the war is over) were lost; thousands more were disappeared; cities, towns and villages were destroyed; the country was depleted of its rich natural resources and historical artifacts; and many millions of Syrians were forcibly displaced from their homes to become refugees in nations across the world where they had one thing in common: they were not welcome anywhere.

Lina Sergie Attar, Chair of The Syria Campaign Board

In 2017, The Syria Campaign achieved these accomplishments across three major campaigns:


Keeping hope alive

The heroic White Helmets took on the global stage after winning an Oscar. They toured the U.S. and Europe and built new networks of support across the tech giants and private donors. On the ground in Syria, the White Helmets continue to save lives after the daily airstrikes. More than 212 volunteers have been killed in the line of duty.

Go to the White Helmets


Pushing for peace

The fearless Families for Freedom formed to built a movement demanding the release of all detainees from all sides. The Syrian women behind the campaign convened in Geneva and London as they confronted the world with the images and stories of their disappeared loved ones.

Read more about FFF


Fighting for the truth

The war in Syria is also a narrative war, with considerable efforts being dedicated to distort the truth on the ground. We produced a investigative reporting revealing how the Russian government is conducting a major multi-pronged propaganda campaign to spread false information about Syria’s humanitarian workers in an effort to cover up its role in some of the most heinous war crimes of our time.

Find out how we did

Impact in numbers

raised for Syria’s frontline heroes


Oscar win for the ‘White Helmets’ Netflix short documentary


Syrian partners supported by our media and communications work


media stories featuring our Syrian partners in major media outlets


social media accounts analysed for our Russian disinformation report


underground hospital funded by The Syrian Campaign members

706,653 members

in 192 countries taking action to support Syria’s heroes

The White Helmets

The global headlines may have moved on from Syria following the fall of Aleppo in December 2016 but the bombs continued to fall and attacks on civilians and vital infrastructure continued with impunity, despite the announcement of so-called ‘de-escalation zones’

From winter into spring, Idlib and Hama in the north of the country were pounded by airstrikes and 80% of White Helmet centres were bombed out of service. In April, White Helmet teams rushed to the site of the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack that killed more than 90 civilians. Over the summer, the conflict shifted southwards with Daraa subjected to dozens of airstrikes daily, displacing thousands from their homes. The year ended with a concerted effort by the Syrian regime to recapture the Damascus suburbs, where 390,000 are living under brutal siege and subject to a relentless bombardment from the sky. In response, the White Helmets continue to save lives – 212 have now been killed in the line of duty.

In 2017, the White Helmets, also known as Syria Civil Defence, redefined the way the world viewed the Syrian conflict. The Syria Campaign worked closely with the volunteers to build broad alliances with technology, new media and entertainment, helping them to be recognised globally as the heroes that they are. By increasing their reach in this way, we raised millions of dollars, helped shape mainstream opinion and built lasting alliances with some of the most powerful people on earth.

White Helmets have been killed in the line of duty

Winning an Oscar

In 2016, we collaborated with Orlando Von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara to create the Netflix film ‘The White Helmets’ – a powerful and hard-hitting examination of Syria’s rescue workers, which reached audiences around the world. The film’s Oscar nomination sparked a publicity campaign that saw the White Helmets splashed on billboards across the US, with full-page newspaper adverts and backing from celebrities such as George Clooney.

Read more

Building popular support

In 2017, The Syria Campaign’s work with the White Helmets focused on elevating their work and mobilising public support behind them. In addition to the Oscars, the White Helmets were recognised by two more of the most prestigious award ceremonies in the world – the TIME 100 Gala and the Emmys – marking the summation of our partnership with the volunteers since it began in 2014.

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million views

Responding to crisis: The Khan Sheikoun attack

In April 2017, the Assad regime launched a chemical attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, killing more than 90 civilians. The White Helmets were the first responders on the scene, providing a crucial testimony to the situation on the ground. We supported the team to ensure the video and photographic evidence of the attack reached as wide an audience as possible.

As well as working with traditional media, we also collaborated with the online video site Viral Thread to produce a 60-second video showing children dying from the use of sarin nerve gas. The film was seen by over 94 million people worldwide, becoming the single most viewed story relating to the attack anywhere in the world, showing that in the midst of the ongoing horror of the Syrian conflict, chemical weapons retain the power to shock the international community.

The global outcry which this, and similar media coverage, generated led to an immediate response from the US government, launching a targeted strike against the regime’s Shayrat airbase. The work of the rescue workers was recognised by the global public and an online fundraising campaign in support of their emergency response raised over one million dollars.

Making the case for the protection of civilians

The White Helmets have emerged as the most important Syrian civilian advocacy voice. In a crucial year for the United States, when policy was being determined by the new administration, The Syria Campaign White Helmets partnership focussed on ensuring calls for protection were heard in Washington.

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Families for Freedom

political prisoners in Syria

The mass detention of Syria’s democrats and peacemakers is the great untold story of the Syrian conflict.

There are approximately 100,000 political prisoners in Syria, with some human rights organisations putting estimates of the figure at twice that number. Detainees include leaders of the revolution, credited with inspiring many Syrians to resist both the authoritarianism of the regime and the radicalism of extremist groups. Others are ordinary citizens for whom a wrong look, a snatched conversation, or sometimes doing nothing at all, were enough of a reason for their detention.

As political negotiations loom on the horizon Syrians repeatedly state that their number one priority is advocating for the rights and freedom of the detained and disappeared. The fabric of Syrian society has been torn apart when so many Syrians – including many children – are languishing in brutal dungeons. Syrian families have said that there can be no peace in Syria until their loved ones are found and freed. For years silence and fear had dominated the issue of forced disappeared in Syria. The restart of the peace talks was a chance to push for freedom.

Introducing Families for Freedom

In 2016, we undertook a consultative process with Syrian civil society organisations to identify how we should engage on the issue of detention. Clear consensus emerged on the need for the issue to be elevated with international audiences. Much of the critical work to date had focussed on documentation of the horrors of imprisonment and there was a need to find a way to show hope and solutions amongst the darkness.

Each case of detention represents not only the tragic persecution of an individual but the wider punishment and censorship of their family and friends. The fear of arbitrary detention and torture is one of the Assad’s regime main tools of oppression and few dare to speak out if someone they love is at immediate risk of torture or death.

Read more

The support was brilliant on all levels. The best thing is their strong belief in our cause, even though they are not Syrian. For me they are brothers and sisters and friends, and I will never forget them as long as I live. When I came home I told my husband, my children and my friends about them. If God allows me to go back to Syria, I will build a statue for each and every one of them.

Amina Khoulani, Co-Founder, Families for Freedom

Geneva and Astana talks

One of the first requests we received from the Families for Freedom was to ensure their presence at every political discussion where the issue of detention might be raised.

At the Geneva talks the concerns of Syrian civilians seemed to be all but forgotten and the Families for Freedom were determined to push the issue of detention onto the agenda. Keen not to be sidelined into the ‘NGO rooms’, the women sent a formal request to the UN Envoy for Syria, Steffan De Mistura, to formally pause the talks as a mark of respect to those detained and meet with them outside the gates. De Mistura met with them and heard their demands, pledging to read them out in the negotiations room.

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The Syria Campaign helped us give a human face to the issue of detention. Its role was vital in building the profile of our movement and even helping us to grow as a group and shape our demands.

Noura Ghazi, Co-Founder, Families for Freedom

Founding members of the Families of Freedom (Amina, Hala, Noura, Bayan, Asma, Ghada).

Fighting for the truth

The Syrian conflict has been subject to a Russian-led disinformation campaign to mislead the public and cover up its own war crimes. In 2017 the use of disinformation to influence global public opinion on Syria reached new and dangerous levels.

Whilst most of the individuals involved in spreading the conspiracy theories are usually dismissed as cranks and extremists by the vast majority of policy makers and opinion formers, their reach online has been extraordinary. Twitter activity during news peaks such as the Aleppo offensive in 2016 and the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack in 2017, shows that far right groups in the United States (the so-called “alt-right”) and Russian networks are reaching more people with manufactured stories than any other group. In these key moments extraordinary focus was placed on the White Helmets in an effort to sow doubt over their credibility.

Alongside mortars and barrel bombs, the Syrian conflict has now clearly become a battle of competing narratives to shape public opinion and ultimately influence political action. Recognising the extent of the problem, The Syria Campaign launched a major investigation into the origin of the fabricated allegations against the White Helmets. We uncovered clear evidence that the Russian government was involved in orchestrating and amplifying such viewpoints.

The Syria Campaign has continued to provide essential information in the understanding of the conflict in Syria, in particular its investigation into how propaganda is being used to attack actors on the ground, in an attempt to smear them and create a justification for their killing by governments involved in the conflict.

Eliot Higgins, Founder of Bellingcat

A coterie of pro-Assad bloggers, including Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett, are amplified by network of trolls associated with other Russian disinformation campaigns and state outlets including RT and Sputnik.

Social media firms such as Facebook and Twitter are failing to stop the deliberate and mendacious targeting of humanitarian workers such as the White Helmets on their platforms.

Protecting the White Helmets

Although saving lives remains the White Helmets’ primary purpose, their volunteers have become one the most important sources of documentation in the Syrian conflict, providing evidence to the UN Security Council, the media, and human rights organisations, including Amnesty and Humans Rights Watch.

This work has made them a focus for Russia’s disinformation campaign with extraordinary efforts being invested in smearing their reputation. Such online attacks are designed to cast doubts over about the veracity of their information and create suspicion around motives. The attacks were beginning to take hold and lead to a growing perception that the White Helmets were ‘controversial’.

We worked with The Guardian to support an investigation, revealing evidence of a targeted Russian influence campaign against the rescue workers.

Killing the truth

Meanwhile The Syria Campaign’s in-depth ‘Killing the Truth’ report has become the ‘go to’ source for journalists, policymakers and others who wish to investigate the extent of Russian disinformation in Syria. We hope it will serve to protect the reputation of the White Helmets for years to come.

Download the report

Supporting Syrian Civil Society

It is always a struggle to decide how we can best support the efforts of civil society when this conflict has produced some of the bravest, most creative and powerful peacemakers on the planet – all of whom deserve support.

In 2017, we provided policy and advocacy support to medical workers and capacity building trainings to a range of partners.

Saving lives underground

Health facilities in Syria are systematically targeted on a scale unprecedented in modern history. Field hospitals have been driven underground into basements and caves, because of the systematic attacks on medical facilities. These fortified, underground facilities have saved the lives of patients and hospital workers. While the international community fails to protect Syrian medics from systematic aerial attacks on their hospitals, Syrians have developed an entire underground system to protect patients and medical colleagues as best they can.

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The underground Avicenna Hospital will offer security to Syrian medical workers who risk their lives every day to treat others. It will not just protect medics and patients, but also allow Syrian doctors in Turkey to feel safe enough to go back to Syria to support their colleagues. This is the most direct way we can protect life in Syria right now.

Dr. Khaled Almilaji, Head of the Sustainable International Medical Relief Organisation

Crowdfunding an underground hospital

In the wait for governments to change their minds and fund underground hospitals, the needs in Syria remained urgent as private funding for fortification of the biggest maternity hospital in Idlib was falling short.

Working with Dr Khaled Almilaji, the Head of the Sustainable International Medical Relief Organisation, we launched a major crowdfunding project in a matter of days and began to collect donations from around the world. The campaign surpassed its target by more than $25,000 within two weeks and the surrounding media attention and celebrity endorsements acted as reminder to Governments that their citizens support Syria’s frontline heroes. The hospital is currently providing critical care to patients in Idlib.

2017 Income and Expenses

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Private individuals and foundations
Total income
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Technology and IT
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Thank you

We are hugely grateful to the individuals and foundations that have supported us in 2017, none of this work would be possible without them.

The Syria Campaign is independent and we have not taken money from governments or individuals linked to the violence of the conflict. All our donors have strong commitments to democracy and human rights – the values that drive our work.

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to our board, members and those who support us, none of this would be possible without them.

We would also like to thank to team at The Syria Campaign whose commitment, creativity and courage is at the heart of everything we do.

But the deepest gratitude goes to Syria’s peacemakers and humanitarians, whose courage, creativity and resolve is an inspiration for us every day. We’re honoured to work with the very best of humanity and do so with love.

The day will come when the people of Syria will enjoy legitimate governance; when the consent of the governed will determine who governs Syria and how. When that day comes, millions of Syrians will thank The Syria Campaign for having kept hope alive during the darkest days.

Ambassador Frederic Hof, Atlantic Council