Middle East: Refugees hit by more violent winter storms

Independent Catholic News

The most violent winter storm for two decades swept across conflict-affected areas of the Middle East last week bringing heavy snow, rainfall, high winds and freezing temperatures. Syrians, Gazans, and Iraqis struggling to cope with war in their own countries or as refugees far from home are facing freezing weather conditions.

“War has left us without any way to defend ourselves against the cold. We have no electricity most of the time, no fuel and no gas. We have no way to stay warm apart from putting on many layers of clothes, which don’t help so much in -8 degrees,”  said a staff member from Caritas Syria in Damascus.

Several people have died as a result of the cold in both Syria and as refugees in neighboring countries. Many of the fatalities are children.

“We need to put an end to this war, to stop the economic sanctions which made us poor and to tell the world that we are human beings who need help,” she said.

Despite the perilous, icy roads, a Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre team has visited Syrian refugees living in makeshift camps in the Bekaa valley. They found that heavy accumulated snow has damaged many of the shelters where the refugees live and people are struggling to cope with the sub-zero weather.

Caritas organizations in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq have supported refugees and other vulnerable people prepare for winter. Caritas has provided fuel, heaters, blankets and bedding, warm clothes and made shelter more resistant to bad weather.

Christian Aid has sent emergency funds to provide sheeting and blankets for 6,000 people living in temporary accommodation in Gaza, and stoves and fuel for 4,600 people in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Euan Crawshaw, Christian Aid’s Regional Emergency Manager for the Middle East said: “The current situation remains precarious for the displaced populations, particularly given the extremely poor conditions in which they already live.

“With the threat of further severe winter weather in the coming weeks, Christian Aid is delivering vital assistance through local partners on the ground in Gaza and Lebanon.We have worked as fast as possible to distribute blankets, plastic sheeting, stoves and fuel to more than ten thousand people.”

Humanitarian needs across the region remain unprecedented, with more than 1.3 refugees from the Syrian conflict in Lebanon, and more than 100,000 people still displaced in Gaza after last year’s Israeli offensive.

The sudden onset of extreme winter conditions has left displaced families in desperate need of basic assistance, with the Palestinian authorities declaring a state of emergency over the storm.

Christian Aid and its partners are continuing to provide immediate lifesaving support for the most vulnerable by purchasing local winter supplies and will continue to monitor the situation closely.