Dubai: Syrian refugee camps in many Middle Eastern countries are preparing this year for what is anticipated to be a freezing winter with the beginning of a harsh snowstorm yesterday evening.
The UAE is sending aid to assist Syrian refugees in both Lebanon and Jordan, and boost the efforts of aid organisation and NGOs are on the ground struggling to meet the needs of people living in tents, which usually become surrounded by rain puddles in winter.
Already, three Syrian toddlers died from the cold a few months ago in the Lebanese town of Arsal in the Beqaa near the Syrian border, said Malek Abu Kheir, a Syrian journalist working in Lebanon and frequent visitor to the camps.
“The most difficult thing is the lack of heating facilities,” Abu Kheir told Gulf News. “People have become used to the mud and clay.”
The spread of diseases, including the cold, is another problem, he noted.
“When somebody has the flu and lives in a tent that has no heating arrangement and there is a storm, the whole tent with its occupants might all be swept away.”
In Lebanon there are nearly 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees, according to UN figures.
The number of registered Syrian refugees in Jordan is 620,000, 1.65 million in Turkey, and 228,000 in Iraq.
There are nearly 137,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt.
‘Waiting to go back’
Asked about the difference in the impact of the harsh winter season on Syrians in refugees camps and displaced Syrians inside Syria, Abu Kheir said “psychology plays an important role ... they (refugees) are waiting for any opportunity to go back home. Many of them are saying it is better to die in Syria,” and are waiting for a solution to return to their homeland.
Meanwhile, many Syrians living in Lebanon, along with Lebanese, volunteered to help.
Tareq Awad, a Syrian master student at the Lebanese University is one of them.
He is a member of “Syrian Eyes” – a voluntary group that assists in collecting and distributing aid to the Syrian refugees.
Last year they managed to distribute winter clothes to many refugees in nearly 10 camps.
“The situation was very disastrous,” Awad told Gulf News.
Apart from the heating issue, “there was a huge deficiency of mattresses, blankets,” he added.
After all, “these people are living in tents that have no cement base, and are erected on wooden poles ... sometimes, the rain goes inside the tents.”
This year, the UNHCR has started laying gravel on the ground at some of the camps in order to allow the water to pass under and prevent it from accumulating around and inside the tents, Awad added.