Saudi Arabia and the UAE have pledged some $15 million in emergency assistance to help Syrian refugees in Jordan face one of the country’s harshest winters in recent history.
According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, Riyadh dispatched $10 million worth of blankets, mattresses and other basic supplies to the Zaatari Refugee Camp near Mafraq, 80 kilometres north of Amman, on Friday after the snowstorm that pounded Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday destroyed tents and left supplies damaged or waterlogged.
Also on Friday, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan dispatched $5 million in emergency aid in response to the winter weather, the Emirates News Agency reported.
The first batch of the Gulf assistance arrived on Saturday and was distributed to refugees at the Zaatari camp, with the remaining aid expected to arrive on Sunday, according to official sources.
The aid boost came as Syrians in Jordan continued to reel from the harsh winter weather, which destroyed 500 of Zaatari’s 4,500 tents, displacing over 2,000 residents.
According to Anmar Hmoud, government spokesperson for Syrian refugee affairs, relief officials have relocated displaced camp residents to residential trailers and makeshift communal tents ahead of the arrival of replacement tents.
Despite a slight rise in mercury levels on Friday and Saturday, Syrian refugees said the warmer conditions offered little relief from harsh desert winds and below-zero evening temperatures, while they continue to suffer a shortage of heating kerosene, blankets and winter clothing.
“The rain may have stopped and the snow may have melted, but we are still left in the freezing cold,” Abu Yousef, a 42-year-old Daraa resident, told The Jordan Times from Zaatari.
“For those of us who don’t even have jackets or shoes, the weather may kill us.”
Nearly a month since launching a record $1.5 billion emergency aid appeal to sustain services to the growing Syrian refugee community, the UN reports it has only secured 6 per cent of this amount.
Meanwhile, the cold weather continued to slow the refugee influx into Jordan, with some 200 crossing early Saturday after braving mountain passes that Syrian rebels say are still “frozen over”.
“Nearly all routes into Jordan, traditional and non-traditional, are covered in ice,” said Abu Mohammed, a coordinator with the Free Syrian Army active in facilitating refugee crossings.
The weather emergency came while intensified fighting across Syria was driving refugees into the Kingdom in record numbers, with the UN reporting an average of 1,100 new arrivals per day since January 1.
The sudden influx pushed the number of residents in Zaatari to around 64,000, exceeding the camp’s 60,000-person capacity and placing an added strain on already stretched resources.
In response to the growing influx, the government has accelerated efforts to open the country’s second Syrian camp, a 30,000-person facility near the northern city of Zarqa, by the end of the month.
Jordan has opened its borders to nearly 300,000 Syrians since the onset of the conflict in March 2011, more than the rest of Syria’s neighbours combined.
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