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Child killed, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees at risk as winter storms hit camps

Refugee camps in Idlib have been flooded [Anadolu / Getty ]

Date of publication: 19 January, 2021

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A child has been killed and tens of thousands of refugees in Lebanon and northern Syria are at risk as winter storms and floods hit makeshift camps.

Displaced people in northern Syria and Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been hit hard by storms and harsh winter conditions, with hundreds of tents being submerged or damaged as a result. At least one child was killed as a result.

In the opposition-held province of Idlib in northwestern Syria, the Response Coordination Team humanitarian group said that dozens of tents have been submerged by floods, with others being damaged. Powerful storms have also uprooted trees.

Idlib province hosts more than a million people displaced by the Syrian conflict, which began in 2011.

Read more: For Syrians fleeing Idlib, there's nowhere left to run

Al-Jazeera Arabic television on Monday showed images of displaced people desperately trying to move tents out of floodwater and retrieve their belongings.

Displaced people said that humanitarian organizations operating in the area were not providing adequate assistance, Al-Jazeera Arabic reported.

Activists and humanitarian workers in the area called on the international community to provide urgent help to the refugees.

In one camp in Idlib, a 6-year-old boy died when a wall around his tent caved in on him, according to the charity Save the Children, which said that a total of 42,000 people had been affected.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon at risk due to government-enforced destruction

In the town of Arsal in Lebanon, which hosts tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, refugees do not have “adequate shelters to withstand the harsh winter months,” Human Rights Watch said.

The global human rights organization said that the situation was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that Lebanese authorities had forced Syrian refugees to destroy their own shelters in 2019.


"Living conditions for the Syrian refugees living in Arsal forced to dismantle their shelters in 2019 remain dire," said Michelle Randhawa, refugee and migrant rights senior coordinator at Human Rights Watch.

"Their situation, compounded by Covid-19 movement restrictions, threatens their safety and their very lives."

Human Rights Watch released a video showing the horrific conditions in Arsal.

The Lebanese Higher Defence Council’s (HDC) enforced destruction of refugees’ shelters has forced them to live without adequate roofs and insulation, exposed to harsh winter conditions, including subzero temperatures and flooding.

"[An NGO] gave us one tarp to cover the roof and we had to buy the rest ourselves,” a Syrian refugee from Homs who said her daughter coughs because of the mould told the organisation.

"We just have five cinderblocks of protection, the rest is wood. The water comes from under [the walls]... There is a smell coming from the mould."

The HDC order was based on a Lebanese construction law which said only "non-permanent" materials such as wood, stood and canvas can be used for building on agricultural land.

Concrete structures are not permitted.

The 2019 order permits a foundation five cinderblocks high, or about one meter, for shelters in Arsal. In the rest of the country, hard foundations can be no higher than two cinderblocks.

The order was first implemented in Arsal, where Syrian refugees were given a deadline of 1 July 2019 to dismantle their shelters or risk having the Lebanese Army demolish them.

Following the deadline, the Lebanese Army bulldozed 20 non-compliant shelters.

"Facing inadequate shelter, Covid-19 restrictions, and rampant inflation, Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population urgently needs assistance, especially during these harsh winter months," Randhawa said.

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