Syrian refugee children face bitter winter

More than 200,000 Syrian refugee children are facing a bitter winter of sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain, many without proper shelter and clothing, Save the Children warns today.

Sunday, 18 November 2012 - 8:41pm

Over 2.5 million people have been displaced within Syria by ongoing fighting. More than 400,000 registered refugees are now in neighbouring countries, and the UN is expecting that figure to reach 700,000 by the end of the year.

Save the Children believes the true number of refugees is likely to be much higher, as many thousands are unregistered and remain scattered across the region, raising fears for their wellbeing as temperatures begin to drop.  More than half are children, the aid agency adds.

“As winter sets in, families are starting to take increasingly desperate measures to keep warm. In the Al Qaem camp in Iraq, children have told us that they haven’t washed for more than two weeks because the water is ice cold. Unless we can help families get ready for the harsh weather ahead, we could see the weakest and most vulnerable succumb to the cold and associated diseases,” said Mike Penrose, Save the Children’s Humanitarian Director.

The vast majority of families are not equipped for the region’s harsh winter, which sees torrential rains combine with freezing temperatures, in particular in desert or mountainous areas where many refugees are now clustered in camps or living amongst local communities. Across the region, tens of thousands are now living in tents and other semi-permanent structures, while others are renting poor quality accommodation at prices they can barely afford in their desperate bid for shelter from the elements. Costs of heating fuel are far beyond many of the families’ means and with the rains, and tents and mattresses are getting soaked. 

Many of the refugees fled their homes during summer months, and now do not have the clothes they need to keep them warm. Children living in camps in Iraq have nothing but the t-shirts and sandals they arrived with, while some in neighbouring Lebanon are sleeping on cold concrete floors of abandoned schools and farm buildings.

“We’re seeing thousands of families across the region, unable to pay for proper shelter to protect them from the cold, without even the basics like blankets or bedding to keep them warm when temperatures plummet at night,” Penrose continued. “ Many have no income, no home of their own, and no winter clothing – these families urgently need assistance if they are to pull through the coming months.”

The aid agency is calling for urgent funding to be made available to prepare refugee families for winter and ensure that children and their families have enough warm clothing to survive.

Without money to pay for such work, winter could leave thousands of refugees facing serious health problems, such as hypothermia and chest infections, that could prove deadly for the youngest, the elderly and the most vulnerable.

Save the Children is on the ground in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, providing support to thousands of children who have fled to neighbouring countries. The agency has launched an appeal to help fund its work in the region.

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact Save the Children's media team on 02070126841 or out of hours on 07831650409.

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