World

Syrian refugees endure plunging temperatures

  • 14 January 2013
  • From the section World

Not a single Syrian refugee child we met in northern Lebanon was dressed for winter. None had warm coats, or mittens. Some didn't even have shoes.

Tiny hands were pink with cold in temperatures near zero. Like children anywhere, their hands still stretched out to greet us when we trudged up a hillside in the Bekaa Valley to reach the snowbound concrete blocks they now call home.

When they weren't laughing, as children do, they were coughing and crying. One little boy in blue pyjamas and sandals gave us a warm smile, through chattering teeth.

It has been the worst of winters for Syrians fleeing the worst of wars. More than 600,000 have already fled into neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

Many are forced to live in tents or makeshift shelters that provide no refuge from the most severe storms in two decades. One aid worker told us people were "swimming in their tents" as snows melted.

Not a day goes by without someone standing up in some capital to express concern about Syria.

One centre we visited in the Bekaa Valley was distributing vouchers for food and fuel provided by the United Nations and some NGOs. But an urgent appeal for humanitarian aid is only about 25% funded.

In crudely-built refugee homes like the ones we saw, they're doing battle with metal roofs that leak, blankets for windows that let the wind and cold in, and children getting sick.

"It's shameful to live like this," cried Najoud, a mother of eight, as she she broke down in tears. "We are also God's creations."