As winter settles in, refugees from Syria face increasing hardship

Oxfam staff walk towards an informal refugee settlement in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Photo: Melanie Gallant/Oxfam

by Joelle Bassoul, Media Advisor for Oxfam in Beirut 

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria have seen another winter descend on the Middle East, for some this is their fifth away from home in increasingly difficult living conditions. Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which hosts the majority of refugees in this small country, is already shrouded in white, while nights in Jordan’s camps are extremely cold with temperatures dropping to zero. Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in camps and improvised shelters are particularly vulnerable to these conditions.

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“It’s hard enough to be far from home and our family. I have been living in Zaatari with my husband and three children since 2013. Winter used to be my favourite time of the year until I got here. We can’t sleep most nights because water leaks in and makes everything wet. I am very worried for my children.  I think of going back to Syria every day,” said Asma Qasim, a refugee in Jordan’s sprawling camp which hosts about 80,000 people.

It is not unusual for Zaatari, set in Jordan’s Northern desert area, to witness snowfall, strong winds and freezing rain.  Oxfam is helping families to dig drainage channels around their households, to ensure they do not flood.

A Syrian boy stands in front of his family’s flooded tent in a settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. As the first winter storm hits the country, thousands of refugees have little means to face the harsh weather.

Our teams are also going door to door, informing refugees of ways to keep safe and dry. In case of heavy rains, flooding or snow melt, our Zaatari team has a contingency plan that includes installing additional emergency water tanks, and helping refugees whose homes are damaged to reach communal shelters. We have also mapped flood prone areas to guide our teams when they reach out to the most vulnerable in the camp.

Outside the camp, we are helping about 1,000 vulnerable families (70% of them refugees, the others Jordanian) by providing relief items such as heaters, gas cylinders, warm blankets and cash to pay for gas refills.

In Lebanon, Oxfam is providing cash transfers through ATM cards to hundreds of Palestinian refugees from Syria. About 450 families will receive a total of 400 USD for the winter months in North Lebanon, which will enable them to buy much needed heating fuel, tools for improving their shelter, and other items, such as blankets, children’s clothing, and stoves. They could also spend this cash on rent, as they all pay to have a roof over their heads.

In both countries, refugees have seen their resources dwindle as the conflict in Syria drags on. With little or no access to work opportunities, they are forced to rely on humanitarian aid to survive.