Syrian refugees suffer harsh winter as Storm Alexa grips Middle East
- POSTED: 16 Dec 2013 17:44
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A blustery storm named Alexa coming from Eastern-Europe hit Lebanon this week. Syrian refugees who have sought shelter in the country now have to face below-freezing temperatures, rain and snow, as aid agencies struggle to provide help.
LEBANON: A blustery storm named Alexa coming from Eastern-Europe hit Lebanon this week.
Syrian refugees who have sought shelter in the country now have to face below-freezing temperatures, rain and snow, while aid agencies have difficulty coping with demand for help.
Mounir and her family escaped Syria last year. This is her first winter in Lebanon, introducing her to a new cold enemy.
Like thousands of other Syrian refugees, she lives in an informal settlement in the town of Marj, in the Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border.
A blustery storm coming from Europe dropped torrential rain and snow on the area.
The river next to her house overflowed and flooded her home.
Mounir said: "The tent fell because of the heavy wind and snow brought by the storm. The cold made the children sick. We can’t afford wood and mazut and we don’t have aid vouchers. Many of the neighbours are in the same situation – we will die from the cold.
"I have two young children and I am pregnant. I am very scared that the weather will get colder.”
At the camp, water has turned the streets into mud roads, and roofs have collapsed under the snow.
Mounir and her neighbours are trying to fix their houses with whatever materials they can find.
They complain they still have not received any aid from humanitarian agencies.
Faouza, another Syrian refugee, said: "We had to use a broom to remove (the snow). My daughter is sick and the youngest has allergies. We took her many times to the clinic but no one helped us. They accept 30 people each day and they tell the others to leave. We stayed two to three hours, standing for nothing.”
Lebanon is home to more than 800,000 Syrian refugees.
Most of them have settled in an area where 280 tent communities have sprung up.
The UN refugee agency has been working with the Lebanese army to distribute plastic sheeting, blankets and heating fuel. But delivering aid is a challenge, as the refugees are scattered and many are not registered.
Dana Sleiman, a public information associate, said: "The fact that refugees are scattered across 1,500 municipalities is a challenge in itself because it means that we have to increase the outreach of our programme throughout the country.
“We have offices in the South, in the Bekaa, two offices in the North for that matter, and one covering Mount Lebanon and Beirut. But it is a challenge because we have to attend to the needs of people living in elevated areas. We are focusing on these refugees.”
This storm is the first of the season, a bleak omen of what is to come.
For some Syrian refugees, this is their third winter in Lebanon.
And despite the help of humanitarian agencies like the United Nations, many fear they will be abandoned to freeze in what some are predicting will be Lebanon’s harshest winter in years.