Syrian refugees in Lebanon continue to struggle with winter conditions

Published January 5th, 2015 - 08:06 GMT

As temperatures keep dropping and the heavy rainfall persists, refugees in Lebanon, lacking fuel for their stoves and waterproofing materials to keep the elements at bay, are struggling to stay warm and dry. Several refugees living in tented settlements across Lebanon said they faced desperate situations.

“Our tents aren’t waterproof. The rain falls on us from the sky,” said Mohammad, a Syrian refugee who lives alongside several other Syrian families in a crude tented settlement on the outskirts of Tripoli. Much of his energy, he added, was spent keeping his 5-month-old daughter dry.

“I have to constantly take her to the doctor. In this weather she is always sick,” he said, adding: “We haven’t gotten any assistance.”

Other refugees complained about the lack of fuel for their stoves.

“Last year we were given an allowance of LL160,000 to buy fuel over a period of four months, but this year nothing came,” said Ahmad, a young Syrian refugee living in the Bekaa Valley. “Now we have to buy a bag of firewood every day, for about LL7,000.”

While humanitarian agencies and organizations have worked to provide winterization kits to refugees across Lebanon, the scope of the crisis and haphazard smattering of tented settlements across the country makes it difficult to ensure the needs of each family are met.

“Some families [in our camp] got boxes with some clothes, but a lot of people didn’t get anything. This year we didn’t even get blankets,” Ahmad said. “Our situation is really difficult.”

“This is an enormous logistical undertaking,” said Ron Redman, regional spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. Many informal tented settlements are located on private property, he explained, and landowners are wary of having winter infrastructure like drainage ditches constructed on their real estate.

Still, he said that by the end of December just under 100,000 families had received “some kind of winter assistance.”

An additional 33,000 families are expected to receive winter aid from the UNHCR before the end of the season, he said. Moreover, almost every registered refugee family living above 500 meters elevation has received materials to help them bear the cold weather.

“For the most part we’ve reached all those above 500 meters. We are now shifting focus to vulnerable refugee families elsewhere, right down to sea level. Because the temperatures down here are pretty cold too,” he said.

The “winter operation” for Syrian refugees in Lebanon has a budget of $56 million, Redman added.

But in the town of Arsal, where snow has already begun to fall on around 50,000 refugees, some say they have little recourse to stave off the cold. “It was really cold last night,” said Mohammad Deqqo, a Lebanese man displaced from Tfail, a small town in the east Bekaa Valley, last spring by fighting related to the Syrian war. “The children are cold and lethargic.”

With temperatures projected to fall across Lebanon this week, there is concern that the most vulnerable refugees will be exposed to the cold. Already at least one child, a newborn Syrian infant in Arsal, died from exposure to the cold.

Freezing rain and mud have turned many camps into waterlogged bogs. “The water is reaching 20 to 30 centimeters high, and it is causing furniture to float out of the tents,” said a Syrian refugee by the name of Abu Jassem, who helps manage a refugee settlement in the west Bekaa Valley

Four tents in Abu Jassem’s camp became completely saturated in a recent deluge and the children residing in them became seriously ill. All four are now in the hospital. “We keep calling NGOs and they always tell us ‘We’ll come tomorrow,’” Abu Jassem said.

By Elise Knutsen

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