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World >

Plea for aid as winter hits Syria refugees

Tim Wyatt

by Tim Wyatt

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 @ 12:29

AS SYRIA was hit by one of the worst winter storms in 100 years, the United Nations launched its biggest-ever humanitarian appeal. It is calling for £4 billion of aid for the victims of the country's civil war.

In 2014, about three-quarters of Syrians will need aid to survive, a UN study has found. About half of the population do not have enough food, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said this week.

A severe storm, "Alexa", hit the region earlier this week, bringing heavy snow, driving rain, and strong winds. The freezing weather has destroyed root vegetables, further depleting meagre food stocks. One resident of a rebel-held suburb of Damascus said: "The ice killed our farms. All the vegetables that we tried to plant died."

The storm is also causing havoc in Lebanon, threatening more than 800,000 Syrian refugees. On 12 December, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that it had distributed 125,000 winter kits, but was struggling to reach thousands of people cut off by the snow. "For the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Lebanon, as well as those in neighbouring countries and the displaced in Syria, a storm like this creates immense additional hardship and suffering," said Amin Awad, director of UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa bureau.

The aid agency World Vision said that there had been a rise in respiratory diseases among Syrian children. "For months we have been concerned about the dire consequences of the approaching winter on these vulnerable families," said Joe Harbison, the charity's Syria response director, "and we've been working to protect as many people as we can. For Syrian refugees, time has run out, and winter is here." World Vision's chief executive, Justin Byworth, said: "The scale of the humanitarian disaster continues to outstrip every projection that the international community makes. Every time we think we have got a handle on it, the needs grow."

The WFP began airlifting urgent supplies into the Al Hassakeh region, in north-eastern Syria, on Sunday, and aims to deliver enough food to feed 30,000 people for one month, despite the insecurity of the region.

Amnesty, the human-rights campaigning group, has said that European nations, including the UK, should be ashamed of their limited response to the refugee crisis. Only ten countries within the EU have promised to take in just 12,000 refugees from Syria, it said. A UK Government spokesman told the BBC they had no plans to resettle Syrians in Britain, but had donated £500 million so far towards humanitarian relief.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Abbas Khan, a British doctor imprisoned in Syria for more than a year, had died, supposedly just before he was to be released by the Assad regime. Mr Khan's family said that the official explanation that he had taken his own life was a "complete fiction", and accused the regime of killing him. Mr Khan had been detained in November last year, 48 hours after he had arrived in Syria to treat injured civilians.

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