2020 Annual Report

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Protest in New York in response to attacks on Idlib, January 2020. Photo credit: John Lamparski/Getty.

Letter from the Executive Director

Dear friends, 

We look back on 2020 with great sadness for all the lives lost and anger at the failures of the international community to protect Syrians from bombs, COVID, and humanitarian catastrophe. 

But I am also immensely proud of all we have achieved in spite of the huge challenges our partners and team have faced. Highlights of the year for me were watching Wafa Mustafa addressing the UN Security Council on behalf of her father and more than 100,000 other detainees, and projecting prison bars and the demands of families of the detainees directly onto the Syrian embassy in Berlin. A new campaign demanding answers about those kidnapped by ISIS was also significant because it put a spotlight on the plight of families, so far largely ignored by the international community. 

When Idlib faced intense aerial attacks at the start of the year, we stood alongside Waad al-Kateab outside the UN in New York, to demand an end to the bombing. I am proud that we helped to amplify the voices of doctors in Idlib calling directly on the UN Secretary General Guterres to visit and urge a ceasefire. 

Thanks to the creativity, tenacity and persistence of our team, the heroism of our partners, and the unending support of our supporters and donors, we look ahead to 2021 with optimism and many new plans. 

With heartfelt thanks and in solidarity, 

Laila Kiki

2020 in numbers

Raised for the White Helmets

Meetings arranged with policymakers for our partners

Campaign actions by our supporters in response to our petitions and calls to action

Photos of Syria's missing people placed in a vigil outside the trial on Syrian state torture in Germany

Media stories about our work and our key partners

Sounding the alarm on the COVID response

A White Helmets volunteer disinfecting a public space in northwest Syria to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Photo credit: White Helmets

Syria’s healthcare system was on its knees before COVID spread across the country. Hospitals and healthcare centres have been bombed to the ground over years of targeting, with dozens of attacks by the Syrian regime and Russia in 2020 alone. Healthcare workers have been deliberately targeted and detained, while many medics fled Syria for their lives. 

The first international ‘Preparedness and Response Plan’ to combat COVID in northwest Syria, in March 2020, was only for three months, and had only a fraction of the funding necessary for a region with more than one million displaced people. Furthermore, it was far less than the sums for elsewhere in Syria. 

Together with The Syria Campaign, we started a campaign to inform the WHO and the Health Cluster about the situation on the ground and what we needed to respond to the crisis. Thankfully, the international community adapted their plans and dramatically increased the funding. We believe the meetings with decision makers and the public campaigns really helped make a difference. Thank you The Syria Campaign for your efforts.

Dr Munzer al-Khalil, Idlib Health Directorate

Challenging the World Health Organisation and international donors

In reaction to a slow WHO response that vastly underestimated the risk that COVID presented to life in Syria, we worked with healthcare professionals across the country to sound the alarm to the international community.

Two webinars on the severe risks of COVID spreading were attended by staff from the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations and other agencies. The first was co-hosted with Chatham House and the second was arranged with the Idlib Health Directorate (IHD) and highlighted new research that showed that the health system was at risk of collapse if the WHO did not urgently step up its preparedness and response. Dr Munzer al-Khalil of IHD was also interviewed on the BBC’s flagship news programme, Today on Radio 4. 

Powering the White Helmets’ emergency response  

The White Helmets leapt into action in response to COVID, sanitising schools, hospitals and camps, running awareness campaigns, and transferring patients to hospitals. They also set up a production line for personal protective equipment, supplying health workers and first responders with masks. Our social media highlighted the response of the White Helmets and our donations from supporters helped fund their activities.

The Syria Campaign's supporters chipped in to help The White Helmets run awareness campaigns in displacement camps to educate people about the risks of COVID-19, and to disinfect public spaces.

Keeping education going during COVID

In June, when many schools had to close due to the spread of COVID, teachers across Idlib began to teach over WhatsApp, setting up virtual classrooms for students to learn from their tents and homes. The Syria Campaign’s followers on Facebook donated $5,000 for a new programme to distribute remote learning kits, helping primary school students to keep learning, while going to school wasn’t an option.

The kits included internet credits, books, stationary, educational magazines, board games, and a skipping rope, and were distributed by the Syrian child protection and education organisation Hurras Network. Each kit costs $7 and our supporters’ donations helped hundreds of children to continue their education.

We also supported Hurras in their advocacy to the international community by making a film in which female head teachers told their stories and described the challenges they face in their work. 

Through the remote learning fundraising, The Syria Campaign was the first organisation ever to fund internet cards for students in all of Syria. Four months later the UN is now following Hurras’ lead. In the plan for next year they allocated funds to cover internet costs for some students and teachers in northwest Syria.

Laila Hasso, Communications Director at Hurras
Photo by Hiba Barakat.

Fighting for justice for the missing in Syria

Photo: Guevara Namer

In 2020, we stepped up our efforts alongside the families of people who are detained or disappeared inside Syria to demand their freedom, and to seek justice and accountability for crimes against humanity. Detention and enforced disappearance continue to be used by Assad and other groups as a weapon to terrorise civilians.

Briefing the United Nations Security Council 

In July, Wafa Mustafa of Families for Freedom, the women-led movement for justice and the release of detainees,  took the fight for Syria’s detained and forcibly disappeared people all the way to the world’s highest forum, the UN Security Council. We supported Wafa to deliver a powerful briefing to the Council, highlighting the story of her own father who was detained in 2013.

Wafa demanded immediate action from the Security Council to ensure the large-scale release of all detainees, especially in light of the escalation of COVID-19 cases in Syria; information about those in detention; an end to torture and impunity and serious steps to hold all perpetrators to account.

To have a loved one who’s disappeared and not know their fate is like waking up one day and realising you have lost a limb. I can tell you it is a growing pain, a pain unlike any other. Even though there is barely anything to hold on to, what keeps me going is to live by what my father has taught me and the hope that one day he will be free and reunited with us.

Wafa Mustafa, briefing to the UNSC, July 2020

Demanding the release of Syria’s detainees at risk of COVID

This year families of detainees suffered increased uncertainty over the fate of their loved ones knowing that the dire conditions in detention centres makes the spread of COVID inevitable. In March, together with Families for Freedom, we launched a new petition, signed by 16,000 of our supporters, demanding the immediate release of detainees and humanitarian access to detention centres for aid agencies. 

Women of courage

Families for Freedom continued to grow in strength in 2020. Throughout the year, different members of the movement pushed for justice and accountability in interviews with a wide range of international broadcast outlets including BBC World Service and Al Jazeera. Their impact was recognised when Amina Khoulani, co-founder of the movement, won the International Women of Courage award. During her visit to accept the award in Washington, Amina met with senior policy officials, including Joel Rayburn, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs and Special Envoy for Syria, and David Schenker, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near East Affairs.

In July, we worked with the makers of a new documentary film, Ayouni, to reach new audiences through a series of online events. The film follows Noura Ghazi, one of the co-founders of Families for Freedom, and Machi, the sister of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a well-known Italian priest who was kidnapped in Syria. 

Supporting a ‘Mute’ protest in Germany

Photo: Family members of detainees stand beside artist Khaled Barakeh's Mute demonstration outside the courthouse in Koblenz, Germany, where the world's first trial on Syrian state torture began. Photo credit: Max Eicke.

In July, we partnered with the Syrian conceptual artist Khaled Barakeh to exhibit his artwork outside the Koblenz trial. Forty-nine figures dressed in the clothes of Syrian activists stood outside the courthouse, representing the Syrian protestors who were unable to be there in person, and in celebration of so many who continue to stand up for human rights. 

It reminds me of the 2011 demonstrations, this was my first impression when I saw the installation. Then I felt saddened because these voices have become muted. I wish these true voices calling for freedom and justice will be heard again in Syria.

Fadwa Mahmoud, founding member of Families for Freedom

Confronting Syria’s torturers in a German court 

In April, the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, began a historic trial on systematic state-sanctioned torture in Syria, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Syria’s survivors of torture continue to testify before the German court, describing the Syrian regime’s disease-ridden and overcrowded prison cells, torture, and mass graves. The trial  has set an important precedent, as Syrian officials have so far escaped prosecution for crimes against humanity because of Russia’s repeated use of the veto for other investigations at the UN Security Council. 

It was important to highlight the trial internationally, to encourage other countries to pursue their own trials and mechanisms for justice and accountability. We worked with Families for Freedom and the Caesar Families Association to display photographs of 120 missing people directly outside the courthouse in July 2020. 

The action was covered by both German and international press, including a Channel 4 news report by Syrian filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab, and an op-ed by Wafa Mustafa of Families for Freedom in Bild, German’s biggest selling newspaper. 

A webinar on the trials, together with Families for Freedom, the Berlin Volksbühne theatre and Bard College Berlin, was attended by representatives from the UN, the US State Department, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), journalists and aid agencies. 

Action outside courthouse in Koblenz Photo credit: Adam Broomberg

Searching for truth after ISIS 

Thousands of Syrians were kidnapped by ISIS, but even after the fall of the extremist group, not enough has been done to find them, give answers to their families, or to seek justice for these crimes. In September, we launched a new campaign demanding urgent steps to uncover their fate. 

In partnership with the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) and the families of the disappeared people, we launched the website ‘Searching for Truth after ISIS’. The English-Arabic site features interviews with family members about their sons, sisters, and husbands who were taken. Maps of the prisons and grave sites help to reveal the network of mass graves that are still being discovered. 

Thousands of people have signed onto our petition and the campaign has put renewed pressure on the international community and the Syrian Democratic Council to investigate the fate of the missing. Questions have been asked in the UK parliament, and stories have been published on the BBC, Vice News, Voice of America, The Times, Daily Telegraph and two Italian newspapers.

Ensaf Nasr holding a portrait of her missing husband, Fouad al-Mohamad

We were eager to work with The Syria Campaign because of their great success in supporting survivor groups and setting them up to conduct high-quality advocacy activities.

Muhammad Abdullah, Syria Justice and Accountability Center
The 'Searching for Truth after ISIS’ website features key information about those kidnapped by ISIS.

“Justice must be the final word”

Projecting the photos of detainees onto the Syrian embassy in Berlin. Photo credit: Janine Graubaum.

For many Syrians living in Germany, the presence of a Syrian embassy in Berlin is a reminder of the regime’s responsibility for the detention and disappearance of their loved ones. In August on International Day of the Disappeared we worked with families of the missing to project their messages directly onto the building and turn the embassy into a giant prison with Assad being bars. The video of the projection has been viewed more than 300,000 times online.

Maryam Al Hallak is projected onto the building saying, “Dr Ayham Ghazzoul was a dentist pursuing his masters. He was detained from Damascus University in November 2012. The day before he had come from Beirut. Before he left for university he said to me: “Mama, it was an amazing trip, I’ll tell you about it when I come back.” I’m still waiting for him to come back and tell me.”

And Fadwa Mahmoud fills a third of the embassy to deliver her heartbreaking message, “On 20th September 2012, my husband and my son were arrested at Damascus airport. The last thing I heard from my son was, ‘Mama, prepare the lunch for us to have together.’ They still haven’t arrived and I’m still waiting for them. Every time I set the table I wish they’d come and have lunch with me.”

Taking Action for Sama

Alongside Waad al-Kateab outside the UN in New York, demanding international action to stop Russia and the Syrian regime's intense offensive on northwest Syria. Photo credit: John Lamparski / Action For Sama campaign.

Waad al-Kateab’s BAFTA-award winning documentary For Sama, about life under siege in Aleppo, brought global attention to the bombing of hospitals and civilian homes.  

In January, we joined  Waad, Amnesty International, The Syrian American Medical Society, and Physicians for Human Rights to protest outside the United Nations in New York, to demand action to protect hospitals and civilians in Idlib.

We helped facilitate meetings for the Action For Sama team with influential people and policy makers, including Ivanka Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and 14 Representatives of the US House and Senators. We also helped arrange a screening of For Sama at the US State Department.

In September we hosted an online event with Waad al-Kateab and Family for Freedom’s Wafa Mustafa for artists, public figures, policy makers and media on the UN Security Council’s response to Syria and the Koblenz trial. 

I’m so grateful for the work of The Syria Campaign. This year they have continued to amplify the work of heroes in their struggle for freedom and democracy even when the rest of the world is too busy to pay attention. Wherever decisions on Syria were being made, they were there raising the alarm and demanding action – from the UN Security Council, to the World Health Organisation, the UN Human Rights Council, and capitals around the world. They have elevated the calls of families of those kidnapped by ISIS and teachers working on the frontline.

Waad al-Kateab, filmmaker

Responding to the assault on Idlib

Photo credit: The White Helmets

Between January and March, close to one million people were forced to flee their homes due to a relentless bombing campaign by the regime and Russia, which resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises of the entire conflict. Most of the displaced, half of whom were children, took shelter in muddy tents near the Turkish border and endured rain, snow and below freezing temperatures.

We coordinated closely with our Syrian partners in Idlib to highlight the scale of the crisis and we worked with international outlets such as ITV News, Channel 4 News, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera to cover the crisis. Our supporters helped to raise more vital attention by sharing emergency briefings on the situation with their representatives, signing our petition and sharing social media alerts.


The continued failure of the UN to protect Syrian civilians has been one of the greatest international failures of the past decade. 

In February, doctors, nurses, and humanitarians in Idlib called on UN Secretary General António Guterres to visit them in Syria, as an act of solidarity that would have shown real resolve to stop the attacks on hospitals and civilians.

Under the hashtag #GuterresVisitIdlib, dozens of doctors and healthcare workers called on Guterres to visit Idlib, prompting figures including the UK MP Andrew Mitchell and David Milliband, chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, to echo their call. UN member states also added their support and pressure on Guterres. Though Guterres himself never visited Idlib, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, visited the Syrian-Turkish border in March to meet with humanitarian groups.

Condemning Russia’s seat on the UN Human Rights Council

Image credit: Syrian artist Omar Almasri made this image of the UN Human Rights Council under attack for our campaign to stop international human rights abuser Russia joining the world’s top human rights body.

In a few days Russia could be elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

How could a state that has deliberately targeted hospitals and bombed Syrian civilians, illegally annexed Crimea, and perpetrated ethnic cleansing in Georgia, win a seat at the world’s top human rights body? It is running unopposed.

Petition to member states of the UN General Assembly

In October, the international human rights abuser Russia became a candidate for a seat on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. In response, we coordinated an open letter calling on governments to oppose its election that was signed by more than 40 Syrian, Ukrainian and Georgian civil society groups. And we launched a petition that was signed by more than 11,000 people from around the world to draw widespread attention to Russia’s unjust candidacy.

Although Russia won its seat unopposed, our campaign highlighted the absurdity of a state that has committed gross and systematic human rights violations being elected to the Human Rights Council. We showed that civil society groups in Syria, Ukraine and Georgia will continue to stand up against Russia’s human rights abuses, even when international governments refuse to do so.

Supporting The White Helmets

Photo: The White Helmets

civilians saved by the White Helmets from under the rubble of attacks in 2020

In 2020, the White Helmets continued to save the lives of civilians under attack, while also responding to the new threat of COVID. Between January and March, White Helmets volunteers saved 1,174 civilians from under the rubble, during the heaviest attacks on Idlib since the beginning of the conflict. 

In February, Raed Saleh, the Head of the White Helmets, visited London to call for British support for a ceasefire in Idlib and urgent humanitarian support. We helped organise his briefing at the Houses of Parliament and secure interviews with BBC News and Channel 4 News. 

When a ceasefire was brokered in March, White Helmets teams quickly provided essential services such as rubble removal, the rehabilitation of schools and bakeries, and the disposal of more than 22,000 unexploded ordnances.

Then COVID hit, posing a massive threat and making cross-border aid deliveries even more difficult. The White Helmets transformed their small uniform production facility into a production line of masks and Personal Protective Equipment for health workers, and established an oxygen cylinders factory to supply medical centres amidst severe shortages.  

Testifying before the US Senate

On March 11th, following months of horrific bombing and displacement in Idlib, Raed Saleh testified at a Full Committee Hearing of the US Senate entitled ‘Nine Years of Brutality: Assad's Campaign Against the Syrian People’. This was the first time that the White Helmets have been able to testify in a full hearing of the U.S. Senate and it allowed US Senate members to hear first-hand why action was necessary to stop the Idlib assault. 

Holding the UK government to account

In November, the UK government announced it would reduce aid spending from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP, with Syria reported to be one of the countries seeing the largest reduction in funding. We asked our UK-based supporters to contact their MPs, demanding action on this and other issues. Close to 600 people contacted their parliamentarians, and in December there were 23 questions on Syria asked in parliament – the largest spike of the year.

We worked with headteachers in Idlib alongside Hurras Education Network to successfully call on the UK to raise the amount of UK aid provided for teachers salaries in northwest Syria. photo by Hiba Barakat

Campaigning with heroes

In March, we launched a new campaigning guide for human rights activists in the MENA region, based on more than 30 case studies from The Syria Campaign’s work and that of our partners. The guide covers topics from designing campaigns and achieving media coverage to launching a digital campaign. All the content is available in English and Arabic. Staff and activists from more than 20 organisations have already registered to use the guide.

The guide is based on in-person and online trainings that we continued to run this year with many of our partners, including the White Helmets and Families for Freedom. 


2020 Income and Expenses

Income Expenses

$286,000 (23.3%)
Government funding
$86,000 (7%)
Major donors and other revenue
$21,000 (1.7%)
$832,000 (67.9%)
Total income
$120,771 (8.8%)
Management and Admin
$198,089 (14.4%)
(Campaigns, Media/Communications, and Program General)
$1,060,550 (76.9%)
Total expenses

In addition, we raised $1,062,208.31 for the White Helmets, $708,124.65 of which came from 8191 supporters in 2020.

The figures listed here are for the year 2020 and are pre-audit.

Thank you

We are grateful to the individuals and foundations whose generosity and commitment make possible every campaign we launch, story we tell, and advocacy meeting we hold. 

We thank our board of directors for their guidance and expertise during a challenging year. 

Our global community of supporters is at the core of our work and impact. By continuing to stand in solidarity with Syrian civilians long after the world’s media and decision makers have turned away, they are building power behind the Syrian people’s demands for rights and justice.

Our deepest gratitude goes to the humanitarians, doctors, nurses, storytellers, educators, feminists, artists, human rights defenders, and every Syrian who hasn’t given up on the struggle for freedom and justice. We are honoured to work alongside them. Their courage and determination are our northstar.  

Wafa Mustafa lays a flower beside photos of the missing in Syria outside the Koblenz courthouse, July 2020. Photo by Max Eicke.