History of WASL

A Syrian diaspora has existed in Europe since the middle of the last century, with waves of migration resulting from the pursuits of education and employment, as well as refuge from political persecution. The largest and most critical wave of Syrian migration to Europe has been a result of the ongoing conflict, which started in 2011.

Germany and Sweden host the largest number of Syrians¹. Before 2011, there were roughly 30,133 Syrian nationals living in Germany. This has risen to a current count of 750,000 Syrian nationals, according to official German statistics. Sweden had 20,758 Syrians in 2010 and by 2016 there were 149,418².

¹Mixed Migration Center, Briefing Paper #10, September 2018

²Danish Refugee Council Diaspora Programme and Maastricht University (2017) “Syrian Diaspora Groups in Europe – Mapping their Engagement in Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom”

Number of Syrian refugees living in Europe

Germany 770,000

(as of 2018)

Sweden 122,087

(as of 2017)

Austria 45,827

(as of 2017)

Denmark 42,467

(as of 2019)

France 11,694

(as of 2016)

United Kingdom 25,000

(as of 2018)

Sources: Government statistics from the respective countries

Reacting to the crisis in 2011, the old and new Syrian diasporas in Europe mobilised voluntary efforts among their personal networks to deliver emergency humanitarian aid.³ The Syrian diaspora began establishing NGOs to address the immediate needs created by the crisis in Syria and to eventually address the growing numbers of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries as well as here in Europe. There are currently over 5 million Syrian refugees, and over 6 million internally displaced persons within Syria, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

³Mixed Migration Center, Briefing Paper #10, September 2018 

As numerous organisations emerged in several European countries, the need to consolidate efforts and to approach governments as unified entities became clear. The Syrian diaspora began to form umbrella networks. By 2012, Syrian NGOs in France had founded Collectif de Développement et Secours Syrien, CODSSY, which brought together ten member organisations. In Germany, in 2013, VDSH (Verband Deutsch-Syrischer Hilfsvereine) would eventually bring together 22 member organisations and in the UK, the SCAN UK (Syrian Charities and Associations Network) umbrella would involve over 20 organisations. Organisations all over Europe, including those in Sweden and Austria, also organised themselves to varying degrees, with the intention of providing aid to Syrians in Syria as well as in Europe. Denmark and Italy had smaller initiatives.

National umbrellas came to know each other at various events organised by Diaspora Emergency Action and Coordination, or DEMAC, and the Danish Refugee Council, or DRC, from 2016 onwards. In 2018, European Syrian umbrellas felt the need to bring their networks together and they began to meet and exchange experiences in supporting, training and advocating for the member organisations within their networks. Six European Syrian diaspora umbrellas - in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Austria and Denmark, as well as some small initiatives in Italy - planned meetings to gain from one another’s expertise.

Some of these European-Syrian networks are far more structured and professional, while others are only just forming. This makes networking and information sharing essential. With the goal of establishing an overarching network of umbrellas, the group of European Syrian umbrellas founded Wasl, a European Syrian civil society network, in the summer of 2019. Wasl means “linking” in Arabic.