Thousands of Syrian refugees battle a winter storm with limited means

by oxfamcanada | January 9, 2015
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Thousands of Syrian refugees battle a winter storm with limited means

As the icy driving rain leaked into their flimsy tent and the blustering wind rocked their makeshift home in Chekka northern Lebanon, wide-eyed Raneem, 6, huddled against her mother, unable to sleep. A major storm is sweeping through the region bringing new misery to thousands of Syrian refugees like Raneem.
According to media reports, the storm has already claimed the lives of four refugees.

For young Raneem and others, they have little protection from the cold. Ayman, a refugee from Syria, told Oxfam: "Our children are all sick. The cold is unbearable, and we have no means to keep them warm."

In Lebanon, coastal areas have been battered by waves and howling winds. Deep snow has blanketed settlements in which refugees live, blocking roads and isolating towns leaving people without access to urgent medical care. Under the weight of the heavy snowfall, tents have caved in, and water tanks have frozen.

In Jordan, extreme weather conditions have also hit Zaatari refugee camp, the country’s largest with more than 80,000 inhabitants. Children, wearing plastic summer shoes, try to jump between icy puddles as men shovel snow from above tents and caravans. "We are in desperate need of caravans, we cannot live in tents anymore," said Abu Ayman.

Weeks ago, Oxfam had started preparing for the winter season by distributing plastic sheets and cash vouchers in Lebanon, and digging trenches around tents in Zaatari to avoid them being flooded by the rain. Evacuation plans had been put in place too, in close coordination with other agencies. But as the storm endures, refugees are in desperate need of food, water and shelter.

In both Lebanon and Jordan, Oxfam is ramping up our aid response to keep Syrian refugees warm through the cold weather. We are working with partners in Lebanon to ensure families can rebuild damaged tents with plastic sheets, and distributing hygiene kits that include soap, diapers and sanitary pads to ensure people can meet their basic needs. While in Jordan, our teams will be addressing the most pressing water and sanitation needs.

For Raneem and others facing their fourth winter in exile, this help goes a long way. But with no end in sight of the bloody conflict, and governments increasingly closing their borders to vulnerable Syrian refugees, Raneem has no choice but to huddle against her mother and pray the storm ends.

Millions of refugees have now fled violence in Syria and are in desperate need of shelter, food and water—most of them women and children. Oxfam has helped nearly 1.5 million people across Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan with lifesaving essentials, but the needs of families remain enormous.

Oxfam welcomes the recent announcement that Canada will be accepting 13,000 more refugees from Syria and Iraq. Given the devastating crisis, efforts to bring refugees into Canada are all the more urgent.

Learn more about the Syria refugee crisis

Providing clean water to Syrian refugees, January 2015

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