International

Winter weather threatens Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan

Below-freezing temperatures, rain and snow make dire situation worse for settlements unsuited for harsh weather

A blustery storm dropped torrential rain and snow on Lebanon and Jordan on Wednesday, as aid agencies scrambled to distribute desperately needed winter supplies like blankets and plastic tarps to Syrian refugees who have sought safe haven in those countries.

Temperatures dropped below freezing in northern Lebanon and some areas of the Bekaa Valley, which is dotted with informal refugee settlements made largely from tents not built to withstand the harsh weather.

The winter weather heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the estimated 1.4 million Syrians in Lebanon who fled the civil war raging in their homeland.

"We are extremely concerned for the refugees this winter that promises to be very harsh," Dana Sleiman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told The Associated Press.

Since the conflict began in March 2011, more than 2 million Syrians — at least half of them children — have fled the violence in their homeland to neighboring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Many will spend the winter in flimsy tents, often with only a plastic sheet covering the ground.

In Marj, a Lebanese town near the border with Syria, refugees on Wednesday were piling up extra layers of plastic bags and tarps supplied by the UNHCR in an effort to reinforce their tents.

"I don't know if this tent will hold up — it's just a few flimsy pieces of metal holding it up," said one refugee camp resident, eyeing his tent with worry.

Unlike the situation in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, the Lebanese government is not providing facilities or land to temporarily accommodate refugees despite the continuing influx into the country of 4.5 million. Many Syrians in Lebanon live in appalling conditions, finding shelter in slums, tents and tin shacks strung with laundry lines and wedged between farmland outside towns and cities.

"We used to be scared of wolves coming inside the tents at night," said one 45-year-old refugee from the contested Damascus suburb of Daraya, who declined to give his real name out of fear of reprisal. "Now there's so much more to worry about ... How will we survive the winter?"   

The Associated Press

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