Migration is often driven by low incomes, scarcity of natural resources and lack of employment opportunities. Syria has suffered from 4 years of consecutive droughts, with grave consequences on resources, pushing rural people to migrate. The impact effect of remittances on livelihoods in dry areas needs more understanding; our study addresses that gap. We used a rapid appraisal and a formal survey of 608 randomly selected rural households in 2009 after two droughts. We found that migration has positive impact on rural livelihoods and represented more than 50 per cent of the annual per capita income. It also supported land reclamation and holds a potential to support development. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.