Vulnerable refugees face fifth winter without adequate food and clothing

by Danish Refugee Council | | Danish Refugee Council (DRC) - Denmark
Friday, 20 November 2015 08:10 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Syrian refugees and displaced persons seeking refuge from civil war have shown over and over resourcefulness and resilience in their pursuit of keeping families safe. But there is one thing they cannot evade, and that is plummeting temperatures, snow and heavy rain as the bitter winter cold takes hold across the MENA region.

Cold weather can be detrimental to the millions of refugees and internally displaced people who have lost everything, and the Danish Refugee Council is working hard to be ready for winter 2015/16.

“It is a time of great uncertainty for many refugees and displacement affected people who know how cold it is going to get but simply do not have the means to make their shelters weather proof or even buy warm clothing for themselves and family. A blanket and warm clothes can make a difference,” said Peter Klanso, DRC-MENA director.

Many refugee families across MENA are living in substandard housing such as informal shacks, tents, unfinished buildings or with multiple other families without means to insulate homes and escape from the harrowing winter that descends on the region.

“Many vulnerable refugees who have exhausted all savings to keep alive over the past four years of civil war in Syria are telling us they will have to make choices between food or winter clothes for their children,” Mr Klanso said.

Last winter snow blanketed refugee camps and urban areas, and freezing temperatures created concerns about the health of refugees, who lacked access to warm clothing and secure shelter. In early January, three Syrian refugee children froze to death in Lebanon and a snow storm in Syria killed two children caught in the elements. Temperatures throughout region drop below ten degrees from November – March, with snow common.

DRC Preparations for winter
DRC’s winterization programme is already underway with distribution of winter kits and E-cards with money to buy needed winter supplies a key part of our support in Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Libya and Lebanon. But while efforts are on-going, more funding is needed to reach the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people.

In Syria, DRC has already provided winter kits and shelter support to over 197,000 displaced people, however, it is estimated that over 3.28 million people are in need of winterization support for shelter, food or clothing.

DRC is the only international aid organisation providing winter assistance to the heavily refugee populated area of Kilis, near the Syrian border. Over 2000 vulnerable families will receive E-cards (cash vouchers) giving people the option to buy blankets, coal, clothing or fuel.  In Urfa, 4000 households will receive these E-cards, and winterization support packages will extend to over 60,000 displacement affected people in the Sanliurfa province.

While DRC has funding to assist 11,000 people with winterization cash assistance, need outstrips demand. Over 288,000 Syrian refugees living outside of camps are still in direct need of winterization assistance, representing around half of the non-camp Syrian refugee population in Jordan.

DRC plans to distribute winter kits, assist with shelter repairs and housing rent to over 9000 vulnerable internally displaced people and non-displaced affected populations in Libya. DRC will also distribute blankets, mattresses and heaters to cover the need of 900 refugees and migrants in detention centers in Tripoli and surrounding region.

Over 15,000 vulnerable displacement affected people living in informal settlements in Baghdad will receive one-off cash assistance packages enabling them to buy needed blankets, clothes or fuel. UNCHR reports a current funding shortfall for Iraq assistance could leave 500,000 Iraqi Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Syrian refugees without fuel for cooking, or for home heating.