Lives at risk as Syrian refugees face harshest winter in years

By agency reporter
November 9, 2013

As the region faces a bitter winter, Christian Aid has warned that the lives of Syrian refugees will be at risk due to inadequate shelter.

With a seven-fold increase in refugees from the Syrian conflict arriving in neighbouring countries over the past year, the UN and aid agencies are struggling to protect the most vulnerable from what it is feared will be one of the harshest winters in years.

There are now almost 200,000 refugees in northern Iraq, most of whom arrived with little or no belongings, and are ill-equipped to deal with near freezing temperatures, says Christian Aid. UN camps are full, and those forced instead to use temporary shelters are thought to be at particular risk.

Winters in northern Iraq are often hard, with heavy rain and even snow. This year, however, some weather experts predict conditions will be particularly harsh.

Similar conditions are forecast for Lebanon, at present home to more than a million refugees from the conflict. There, no formal camps exist and many of the new arrivals live in make shift encampments.

Christian Aid partner REACH is one of the few agencies in Iraq working with refugees outside the official UN camps. Director Saman Majed says those fleeing the conflict face a number of health risks.

"The temporary camps were set up quickly to accommodate the last huge influx of 50,000 refugees in the summer and were not constructed to deal with harsh winter conditions.

"Without proper drainage and concrete flooring in the tents the rainy winter season threatens hundreds of lives as tents will flood. A wet environment then increases the risk of disease, especially amongst small children and the elderly.

"Refugees are already suffering from malnutrition and diarrhoea, and health issues will escalate.

"Also at severe risk are the urban refugees, those who have sought shelter in abandoned buildings with no doors or windows. They cannot afford clothes or fuel to burn to keep them warm."

With support from Christian Aid REACH has already provided blankets, shelter materials and warm clothes, as well as food, jerry cans for water, sanitary products and other essential items to almost 15,000 people, but the level of need is huge.

"In the weeks ahead we will also be providing kerosene oil, kerosene heaters, mattresses and blankets." added Saman Majed. These materials will be provided under German Aid agency Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH Germany).

In Lebanon, Christian Aid partner Najdeh is continuing to provide food and hygiene kits and with the help of Swiss International Church Aid (HEKS), will be providing heating and heating vouchers.

Janet Symes, Head of Middle East at Christian Aid said: ‘Winter will soon arrive and this underlines the need to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Christian Aid believes the only way to end the crisis is through an inclusive negotiated peace that gives the Syrian people the opportunity to start rebuilding their future.’

Visit www.christianaid.org.uk/syria to find out more about the Syria crisis and to donate to Christian Aid's appeal.

[Ekk/4]

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