‘Real risk’ of refugees freezing to death in Syria after rains destroy shelters
Xeber24.net – The Guradian
As temperatures fall, aid workers warn of danger to at least 11,000 people across Idlib, with storms also battering camps in Lebanon
At least 11,000 child refugees and their families are facing a weekend of freezing temperatures with no shelter, after torrential rains across Syria’s Idlib province swept away tents and belongings.
Aid workers warn there is a real risk people will simply freeze to death as temperatures have already dropped to -1C, amid a shortage of blankets and heating fuel.
The shelters of Syrian refugees inside Lebanon have also been battered by high winds, rain and snow this week, according to UNHCR, which says 361 sites have been affected.
Camps in the border town of Arsal have been buried in snow, while settlements in the central and west Bekaa areas, where there has been heavy flooding, have experienced even worse damage. It is forecast that rains will begin again on Sunday.
On Thursday, the UN confirmed an eight-year-old Syrian girl died in Lebanon after slipping and falling into a river during the storm.
In north-west Syria, Save the Children is distributing plastic sheeting to displaced families. Caroline Anning, Syria advocacy and communications manager for the charity, said there were cases of babies freezing to death last year, and added that more people are vulnerable this winter.
“The number of people that moved into Idlib over the last year is huge and there is always the risk there will be more,” said Anning. “We saw, a couple of months ago, there was an escalation of violence in the south and thousands of people fled northwards. It’s a very tense situation.”
Outbreaks of violence between armed groups have delayed emergency relief efforts over recent weeks, she added.
Though fighting has subsided, many areas remain cut off as a result of flash floods, preventing families from accessing health facilities and slowing the distribution of emergency supplies. On Wednesday, a woman in labour was carried out of a camp on the shoulders of six people because it was not possible to access roads, Anning said.
Aid workers are concerned about the spread of disease in overcrowded camps, and have received anecdotal reports of respiratory illnesses.
About half of the 2.9 million people living in Idlib and the surrounding areas are displaced, according to the UN. Children, who make up half of those displaced, have often been forced to move up to seven times and are already in poor health.
Save the Children warned that a demilitarised zone set up by Turkey and Russia along the frontline in Idlib must be fully implemented. “Things are so fragile, any further escalation or displacement would just create a huge humanitarian crisis,” said Anning.
In Lebanon, 70,000 refugees, including almost 40,000 children, are at risk of extreme weather, according to UNHCR. “It has stopped raining and snowing now but it’s still very cold and we are expecting another storm starting this Sunday,” said Lisa Abou Khaled, public information officer for UNHCR in Lebanon. “We are worried that the upcoming storm may cause more damage, especially in informal tented settlements in Bekaa and in the north,” she added.