Help for refugees in bitter Middle East winter

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 19 Dec 2013

As temperatures plunge in the Middle East, Oxfam is providing a vital lifeline to Syrian and Palestinian refugees to help them survive against the bitter cold.

The recent upsurge in fighting in Syria has seen more refugees arriving in Lebanon, with Oxfam reporting over 1200 refugees arriving in Lebanon from late November.

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke said that since last winter, the number of refugees fleeing into neighboring countries has soared to at least four times the size it was a year ago.

This time last year, the refugee population in Lebanon was 100,000, now it is around 1 million.

“Many of those families are living in areas which are particularly prone to rain, snow, and bitterly cold temperatures,” she said.

“In Jordan, where more than 550,000 Syrians have been registered, 80 per cent of the refugee population is living in makeshift tents and mostly inadequate housing.”

Oxfam is supporting more than 23,000 refugees from Syria access fuel and stoves for cooking and heating, and blankets to combat some of the worst winter conditions in years

“The world mustn’t forget these highly vulnerable people,” Dr Szoke said.

“Life is becoming even harder for refugees as winter starts to bite. Temperatures will continue to drop over the coming weeks and inevitably that will start to take its toll on people’s health.

“Children are particularly vulnerable. Many are sleeping on the cold ground wearing cotton shirts and a simple cough can quickly escalate into something much more serious.”

Dr Szoke said that in Lebanon, there were reports of refugees exhausting their financial capacities and  moving out of rented accommodation into informal tented settlements .

“Poor sanitation facilities mean tents can be flooded with sewage overnight, making people vulnerable to disease. The scale of this crisis is massive and ultimately it needs to be resolved politically so Syrians – both inside the country and out – can start to rebuild their lives.

“But these families need help now.  Temperatures in Lebanon and Jordan are already plunging but the worst of the winter is yet to come.

“Many people are only wearing the thin summer clothes they fled from Syria in and those living in tents are sleeping on just a bare mat or thin mattress above the cold winter ground.

“Oxfam is doing the best we can by delivering winter kits to help many of the poorest families, but we want to be able to do much more and so we really need the public’s help.”

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