Syrian refugees suffering in severe weather

25 January 2019

UN official says Storm Norma has forced hundreds to abandon their homes

©2018 World Vision

Flooding in a refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Flooding in a refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

HAVING fled a country in which cities have been smashed as Stalingrad or Dresden were — as a UN official has said — Syrian refugees are enduring miserable conditions in Lebanon.

Storm Norma, which struck Lebanon two weeks ago, forced hundreds to abandon their homes. One small girl drowned after falling into a flooded stream.

On Tuesday, World Vision’s operations director in Lebanon, Rami Shamma, said that water had breached tents, and frozen. Many Syrian refugees in Lebanon — estimated to number up to 1.3 million — live in informal tented settlements, where they were are “high risk” during severe weather conditions, he said (News, 11 March 2016). The charity had been able to reach more than 25,000 people with humanitarian relief, and would be distributing fuel vouchers this week. Reuters reports that some refugees have been burning clothes to stay warm.

About 70 per cent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and about ten to 20 per cent of the indigenous population, live beneath the poverty line. The country, which has the largest number of refugees per capita in the world (1:4), has been without a government for eight months, and is battling an economic crisis as growth has been plummeting since 2010. In its latest report on the country, the UN praises the “generosity and tolerance” of both the government and the people, but warns that just one third of its appeal for funds has been met.

At the weekend, a summit of Arab states in Beirut called on the international community to help “strengthen favourable conditions for the displaced and refugees to return in line with international law”. The UN has estimated that up to 250,000 Syrian refugees could return home this year, out of a total of 5.6 million.

Tensions had existed between refugees and the host communities in Lebanon for years, Mr Shamma said. World Vision has worked in the country since 1975, and continued to offer relief to Lebanese communities, he emphasised.

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The conditions for the safe return of refugees to Syria had yet to be met, he said.

While providing immediate assistance, World Vision’s biggest concern remained the future of refugee children, Mr Rammi said. One million had been born outside Syria since the conflict began, and, while two-thirds of children aged six to 14 were in school, this fell to 23 per cent for those aged 15 to 17.

“There are so many generations that will be living in illiteracy and poverty, with a lack of mobility and no access to education.”

In December, the UN appealed for £4.32 billion to support Syria’s neighbouring countries.

While fighting has ceased in much of the country, progress towards a political solution settlement has repeatedly stalled. The UN is attempting to create a “credible, balanced and inclusive, Syrian-owned, Syrian-led constitutional committee” as a prelude to new elections, but must secure agreement from Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of people remain in “hard-to-reach” areas.

Last month, the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told Sky News: “The British long-standing position is that we won’t have lasting peace in Syria with that [Assad-led] regime, but, regretfully, we do think he’s going to be around for a while.”

In November, the outgoing UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland, said that some Syrian cities had been smashed like Stalingrad or Dresden.

“Too many said that, since we’re fighting terrorists, we’re allowed to smash the whole place,” he told Reuters. “To me, that is a violation of every humanitarian principle.”

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