Region | Lebanon

Brutal snowstorm brings new misery for Syrian refugees

I’d rather die a million times than live through this humiliation, camp resident says

  • AFP
  • Published: 17:29 December 12, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: REUTERS
  • Syrian refugees play with snow during a winter storm in Zahle town, in the Bekaa Valley

Saadnayel: Syrian refugee Faisal looks down at the muddy floor of his tent in a field in eastern Lebanon as it is battered by a snowstorm.

“I’d rather die a million times than live through this humiliation,” the 48-year-old says bitterly.

“Nobody else has had to go through what’s happening to us. Every country is plotting against us, they’re all traitors,” Faisal rages, his head wrapped in a scarf.

In the Saadnayel area, as elsewhere in Lebanon, where informal tented camps have sprouted to house families fleeing the carnage in neighbouring Syria, the displaced Syrians who have survived the war are now battling the forces of nature.

More than 500 refugees live in Faisal’s camp, and few have more than rudimentary heating to fend off the chill of the storm dubbed “Alexa” that is battering Lebanon.

The father of four from Idlib in northwestern Syria felt he was speaking for most of his compatriots who feel they have been abandoned by the international community.

The massive flow of refugees from Syria has strained the capacity of surrounding nations, including Lebanon, which has felt the crisis most acutely.

It is hosting more than 825,000 registered refugees, but likely closer to a million in total, representing a quarter of its population.

Its borders have remained open, but the government has refused to allow the establishment of formal refugee camps.

Instead, refugees have set up makeshift, unofficial camps, many dotted across the eastern Bekaa Valley — a stark counterpoint to bucolic vineyards that Beirut residents visit for weekend lunches.

In the refugee camps, thousands get by in makeshift camps, in shelters made of little more than plastic sheeting nailed to wooden frames — a flimsy barrier against fierce winter weather.

Others live in unfinished buildings with only slightly more protection from the elements in cities including the capital Beirut.

“I hate the cold,” says Sakr, 13, swathed in a hooded coat.

“When it snows, the meltwater becomes mud inside the tents, which collapse on our heads because of the weight of snow.”

Other children, some with no hats at all, sneeze and rub frozen hands together, their shoes caked in mud.

“Give us something to keep us warm,” they ask a group of journalists.

Farther along, a man hammers in a nail so he can hang a picture at the entrance to his tent.

Inside, men and women cradle babies in their arms, trying to transfer some of their own body heat. A man on crutches, his feet bare, stares silently at the mud on the ground.

Some refugees have resorted to drastic measures in an attempt to counter the effects of the biting wind.

“We have to burn shoes to keep the heater going because there’s no other fuel,” says 40-year-old Najla.

This releases an acrid stink that fills the tents that are now “home” to at least six people each.

At Arsal, also in eastern Lebanon and some eight kilometres from the border with Syria, the tents were draped in snow on Wednesday as the temperature hovered just above freezing.

At night, however, in the area known for supporting the armed opposition battling President Bashar Al Assad’s forces, the temperature drops to four below.

And yesterday, the Syrian opposition appealed for emergency fuel deliveries to rebel-held areas, saying two children had “died of cold”.

The opposition National Coalition said that parents were unable to keep children warm in bombed out buildings as snow carpeted many of Syria’s main battlegrounds.

“Hussein Tawil, a six-month-old baby, died of cold yesterday (Wednesday) in Aleppo,” Syria’s second city which has been a key battleground since July last year, Coalition spokesman Soner Ahmad said.

“He was probably living in a house that had been damaged,” Ahmad said.

Another child died from the cold in Rastan, a rebel-held town in the central province of Homs, he added.

“The situation is terrible. There is no fuel,” Ahmad said, appealing for urgent help for Syrians inside the country and in refugee camps abroad to cope with the wintry conditions.

The education ministry ordered those schools still operating in government-held areas to close because of the extreme weather. A photograph of bombed out buildings in the province covered in snow went viral on the Internet.

Back at the camps, there are major concerns about the fate of refugees living in more than 200 makeshift camps in northern and eastern Lebanon.

Wafiq Khalaf, a member of Arsal’s municipal council, said, “The Syrian refugees here are shivering with cold, especially the ones in tents.”

“Water has come into the tents from the roofs, and from the ground where there is flooding,” he said.

But despite the misery wrought by the winter storm, Khalaf said the refugees keep on coming, among them 10 families fleeing the Syrian town of Yabrud in the Qalamoun region north of Damascus.

Yabrud is the last rebel-held stronghold in the strategic area near the border, and is being pounded by government forces.

In the past few months, more than 20,000 new refugees have arrived in the Arsal region alone, overwhelming the small town.

Comments (1)

  1. Added 10:28 December 13, 2013

    The situation is pathetic. It is unthinkable for a country to take care of 1 million refugees. I assume now the number of people in Syria might be far less than those outside. Why are the world leaders waiting for Bashar Al Assad to bring Syria back to normal. He has failed to do so for the past 2-3 years? Importantly those sheltered must be conscious about family planning. Having 3-4 children will make situation worse specially the newborn.

    Mariakutty, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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