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The New Arab Staff

Rare snow brings suffering to Syrian refugee camps

Snowstorms have brought increased suffering to Syrian refugees [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 February, 2021

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At least four children living in informal displacement camps in northwestern Syria have died as temperatures dropped below zero.
Heavy rainfall, snowfall and intense winds have hit the Middle East hard this week, leaving displaced Syrian refugees with no proper protection from the harsh weather conditions.

Snow blanketed parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, covering areas it has not reached in years.

The air depression affecting the eastern basin of the Mediterranean is considered a fourth-degree storm according to the Arab Weather Index, which has five degrees of severity. 

This year's severe winter has brought new danger to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people living in makeshift tent camps across northern Syria. Up to  At least four children living in informal displacement camps are reported to have died as temperatures dropped below zero.

Describing the situation in Syria, Mark Lowcock, the UN head of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, said in a statement on Monday that the displaced are “traumatised” and “forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full.”

The aid organisation World Vision said that temperatures dropped to -7 degrees Celsius in in Idlib.

“Everyone here is begging for tents or housing to seek shelter from the cold. There are 20 children living in a basement warehouse with no windows or ventilation. They have been displaced for three days and they are sick with no blankets or mattresses to sleep on,” an aid worker identified as Ahlam said.

Read also: Heavy snowfall hits Syria, Lebanon, Israel in winter storm

Displaced families are staying on the move seeking shelter all day with no luck, according to World Vision. They are sleeping under tarpaulin, in cars and in half-built buildings with no windows. The majority cannot afford heaters or fuel and many do not have enough blankets or winter clothes.

In the mountains of the southern Syrian province of Suweida, snow reached a height of 15 cm (6 inches), according to the Assad regime's news agency SANA. 

Seven million people in Syria, most of whom have fled bombardment by Assad regime forces, are internally displaced or in need of humanitarian assistance, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates. 

Neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon are also home to over 3 million Syrian refugees, many of whom live in tented encampments. Winds have knocked out electricity in vast parts of Lebanon, forcing many people to increase their reliance on generators.

UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abou Khaled said the UN agency had prepared informal settlements for the cold season by installing thermal isolation through wood and plastic.

“This in many cases is not enough unfortunately and every year we see damage in terms of broken tents from the intense wind or snow,” she added. 

Abou Khaled said however that the UNHCR had distributed cash to refugees so they could buy fuel in order to keep safe from nce in order to battle the cold.

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