Winter conditions adding to hardships for more than 600,000 Syrian refugees

Briefing Notes, 11 January 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The severe winter conditions across Syria and the surrounding region this past week have brought new difficulties for refugees and other displaced people. Even with the winter preparation work that has been done in recent months, many refugees in both camp and non-camp situations are facing particularly cold and damp conditions. At the same time, there has been no let-up in the numbers of people fleeing Syria into neighbouring countries. Around the region there were, as of figures we received yesterday (Thursday), 612,134 people either registered as refugees or being assisted as such.

Jordan

The first week of 2013 has seen a surge in new arrivals with an average of more than 1100 Syrians crossing the border every day, although with reduced numbers over the past few days amid freezing rain. Many of those arriving have been barefoot, with their clothing soaked, and covered in mud and snow. Refugees report discarding their belongings to carry their children through flooded countryside to Jordan. For people arriving at the border, UNHCR managed yesterday to send 1,000 blankets, 500 mattresses along with emergency clothing. Our partners at WFP also sent 3,000 welcome meals.

At Za'atri there was flooding earlier this week, amid some of the worst weather conditions in Jordan in 20 years. UNHCR managed yesterday (Thursday) to deliver several truckloads of gravel to elevate the ground level and improve drain-off. Culvert openings were cut through the camp ring road at 4 different points to release standing water into creeks surrounding the camp. This has improved things in the eastern part of the camps and we expect the whole camp to be dry soon.

Health services in Za'atri camp are all operational with mobile clinics covering the affected area in the camp, detecting medical cases in need of transfers to the camp hospital and treating primary health care patients on the spot.

UNHCR and partners relocated affected Syrians to the prefabs during the past three nights, as efforts to assist and relocate affected and vulnerable families continue. UNICEF is placing 45 emergency latrines in the new prefab modules. UNHCR is distributing 5 blankets per person for new arrivals to Za'atri, in addition to winter clothing. UNHCR/NRC are also distributing dry blankets, mattresses and other non-food items to those whose belongings were affected.

For refugees living away from the camp, conditions have also been difficult. Many are accommodated in shelters with limited heating and insulation from the freezing conditions, along with a shortage of warm clothing and blankets. Some 6000 families are receiving cash assistance.

The Government of Jordan estimates that some 280,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into the country in the past 22 months. 176,569 of these are registered with or being assisted by UNHCR.

Lebanon

The registered and assisted refugee population in Lebanon has now swollen to almost 200,000 people (194,769). Over the past week, temperatures have in general remained above or close to freezing, but there has nonetheless been snow. Flooding has occurred in a number of tented settlements in the Bekaa, in houses in a low rise area of Wadi Khaled in the north, and at a warehouse housing refugees further south in Sidon. A collective effort in Sidon by UNHCR, the Danish Refugee Council, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre has allowed for draining of the warehouse. In Bekaa and in the Wadi Khaled we have taken action to deal with the flooding and help affected refugees in partnership variously with Action Contre La Faim, and Premiere Urgence. We're also gearing up provision of assistance with local municipalities, and NGOs. Dry mattress, bed covers and food vouchers have been handed out; Four Syrian and two Lebanese fami lies have been moved away from a flooded part of Wadi Khaled; and we are making additional room available to house people in collective shelters. In light of this week's conditions we have further increased distribution of warm blankets, heaters, fuel vouchers, winter clothing, and plastic sheeting. 6,700 families have had their homes weather-proofed, and renovation help has been provided to 5,300 others.

Turkey

Our Turkey office reports that all camps are affected by the harsh winter conditions of the past week. The Turkish authorities have done significant work in reinforcing camps against the winter conditions, including creating platforms for tents, providing electrical heaters, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting and warm clothing plus additional high thermal blankets. Nonetheless, and to further support this, UNHCR has provided family tents for 83,500 persons, blankets for 107,220 persons, kitchen sets for 110,220 persons, plus we have placed an order with the Turkish Red Crescent Agency for 18,500 winterized tents. Tragically, and despite precautions taken by the camp authorities, late December saw two fire incidents one at Ceylanpinar, another at Akcakale. Together these claimed the lives of five children, leaving two others injured.

Iraq

Heavy snow has affected the Domiz camp in Dohuk in particular. Living conditions for refugees outside the camps and in local communities are also difficult, with people affected by the cold and facing high prices for basic commodities.

While substantial winterization work has already been done, UNHCR is monitoring the situation closely. Currently, we have urgent needs for additional winter clothing, boots, and scarves, particularly for children. Refugees living in Erbil have also complained about shortages of winter medicines and the need for food. UNHCR is looking at additional measures to help including cash assistance and construction materials to help people improve the places in which they are sheltering. Thermal blankets have also been handed out in the urban areas of Zakhou, Duhok, and Semeil. We are also handing out additional plastic sheeting and kerosene.

At Al-Qaim, additional stoves and kerosene have been provided for all refugees numbering around 7,000 people. Heating systems have been installed in school tents, along with solar heaters in the women's showers. Together with partners, additional winter clothes are also being handed out.

Syria

UNHCR has in recent months provided significant winterization aid to refugees and displaced families inside Syria, including winter quilts, heavier blankets, and winter clothing. Shelter assistance work started in late 2012, with work on 40 shelters on-going, and programmes of cash assistance have been underway. As of year's end UNHCR had helped over 400,000 people in accessible areas of Syria, providing non-food aid, and in addition cash aid to nearly 15,000 families. Despite the difficult security conditions, we are continuing to work to help people where we can often working through partner organizations. However, difficulties of access mean we cannot reach all people in need.

Additional Data

Regionwide, 612,134 Syrians are either registered as refugees or being assisted as such. The following are the numbers by country:

LEBANON (as of 9 January)

Number of Syrians registered and pending registration with UNHCR: 194,769

Registered / Pending registration: 138,213 / 56,556

JORDAN (as of 7 January)

Number of Syrians registered and pending registration with UNHCR: 176,569

Registered / Pending registration: 128,628 / 47,941

PLEASE NOTE: These statistics are based on active registrations in the UNHCR database. Users are cautioned that the actual population is subject to uncertainties including incomplete camp departure information and other variables. UNHCR and its partners are implementing measures to improve registration figures accuracy.

TURKEY (Government of Turkey figures dated 10 January)

Number of Syrians registered in camps: 153,163

IRAQ (as of 8 January)

Number of Syrians registered with UNHCR: 69,282

EGYPT (as of 9 January)

Number of Syrians registered with UNHCR: 13,292

North Africa (as of 31 December)

Number of Syrians registered with UNHCR: 5,059

For more information, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • Mohammed Abu Asaker (Regional Spokesman, Arabic) on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
  • Tala Kattan on mobile: +962 79 978 3186
  • Aoife McDonnell on mobile: +962 795 450 379
  • Dana Sleiman on mobile: +961 3827 323
  • Melissa Fleming on mobile: +41 79 557 9122
  • Adrian Edwards on mobile: +41 79 557 9120
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Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

The UN refugee agency's Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visited Iraq this week, meeting with Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqi citizens in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She offered support to 3.3 million people uprooted by conflict in the country and highlighted their needs.

Jolie spoke to people with dramatic stories of escape, including some who walked through the night and hid by day on their road freedom. She also met women who were among the 196 ethnic Yazidis recently released by militants and now staying in the informal settlement at Khanke.

"It is shocking to see how the humanitarian situation in Iraq has deteriorated since my last visit," said Jolie. "On top of large numbers of Syrian refugees, 2 million Iraqis were displaced by violence in 2014 alone. Many of these innocent people have been uprooted multiple times as they seek safety amidst shifting frontlines."

Photos by UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

The Winter Triplets: a Bitter Sweet New Year's Tale

The birth of triplets on New Year's Day in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley should have been cause for celebration, but there was a terrible cost attached. The newborns' mother, Syrian refugee Amal, died shortly after giving birth, never having a chance to see her boys.

In a twist of fate, Amal's own mother had died giving birth to her. Amal, whose name means "hope," had been excited at the prospect of having triplets and had been confident about the birth. She named the three boys before they were born - Riyadh, Ahmed and Khaled - and told her husband to take good care of them in case anything happened to her.

The weather in the Bekaa Valley seemed to reflect the torment of Amal's family. Less than a week after she died, the worst winter storm in years swept through the region bringing freezing temperatures and dumping huge amounts of snow across the Bekaa. And so this family, far from home, grieve for their loss as they struggle to keep their precious new members safe and warm. Photojournalist Andrew McConnell, on assignment for UNHCR, visited the family.

The Winter Triplets: a Bitter Sweet New Year's Tale

Surviving the Storm

A fierce winter storm swept through the Middle East this week bringing icy temperatures, high winds and heavy snow. In Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, more than 400,000 refugees have been enduring freezing conditions since snow levels not seen in many years arrived. Refugee accommodation in the Bekaa ranges from abandoned buildings to garages, sheds, apartments and informal settlements. Conditions are most difficult in the settlements, with roofing on makeshift shelters liable to collapse under the weight of the snow.

Although a great deal of winter aid has been provided, UNHCR remains concerned. Despite the agency's best efforts, the situation in Lebanon remains precarious for refugees, given the extremely poor conditions in which they live and the scattered nature of the population. It is a constant challenge to ensure that refugees across more than 1,700 localities remain safe and warm during the winter months and have sufficient resources to withstand severe storms.

Photojournalist Andrew McConnell spent two days in the Bekaa Valley, documenting the situation for UNHCR.

Surviving the Storm

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