Syrian Refugees Rely on TikTok for Survival

Syria’s civil war has gone on for over 12 years. Civilians are caught in the crossfire.

Valentine Wiggin
2 min readFeb 23, 2024

After the UN stopped giving aid to Syria in January, many Northern Syrians have turned to livestreaming as a source of income. This trend has emerged during 2022. TikTok has even come under fire for profiting from these Syrians’ desperate situation taking around 70% of the proceeds that come in the form of gifts.

On TikTok, gifts are small icons or widgets that users can purchase to monetarily support their favorite creators. The creators, in turn, make money when viewers purchase these gifts. They range in cost from as little as one US cent ($0.01) to as much as around $500. Many of the livestreamers use their hands to form a heart to thank netizens for their donations and urge them to give hearts and gifts to their streams.

As an alternative to gifts, some streamers accept direct donations. Man netizens encourage others to give directly to these refugees in order to ensure that they actually receive donated money. In their streams, the streamers are seen huddling with their families under blankets, feeding animals, or distributing food to children. Many of them appear to have colds or other similar viral illnesses as well.

These people did not end up in tents begging for money on TikTok by choice. The civil war in Syria has displaced many people in the north. Many Syrians were dissatisfied with their current government due to corruption and a lack of political freedom. Pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets in 2011 in Deraa, a southern city. The Syrian government cracked down on these demonstrations. Meanwhile, extremist groups like al-Qaeda have seized control of other parts of Syria.

With no end in sight, the Syrian civil war wages on and keeps civilians in desperate straits. Starvation, poverty, and disease run rampant in these refugee camps and no one knows how long the war will go on. The UNHCR estimates that around 700,000 people live in the Zaatari and Azraq camps as well as others. That is more than the population of Las Vegas, Nevada.

While TikTok is technically illegal in Syria, VPNs can allow people to circumvent these bans. Meanwhile, many of these refugee camps are not in Syria itself. This allows the refugees to access TikTok, which has become a means of survival. When 90% of the country lives in poverty, many people will break the law to ensure their survival. Using a mainstream website is one of the less risky ways that Syrians can do that.



Valentine Wiggin

Death-positive, sex-positive, and LGBTQ-affirming Christian. Gen Z. I hate onions. She/her