A Syrian Refugee's Winter

More than a decade after the conflict began, Syria’s refugee crisis remains the world’s largest.

6.7 million Syrians are seeking refuge overseas, and another 6.5 million are displaced within the country’s borders.

Life for refugees is synonymous with suffering. From the struggles of raising a family in a fragile shelter, to the psychological trauma of fleeing conflict, misery pervades every aspect of existence.

But during winter, this situation - already disastrous - deteriorates into a major catastrophe. Life becomes more unbearable. Caring for children becomes more of a challenge. Hope becomes harder to find.

In the camps and informal settlements that span Lebanon and Syria, the fall in temperature is accompanied by a dramatic fall in living conditions. The makeshift shelters that make up each camp are built of flimsy materials such as plywood, fabric and plastic, offering zero protection from the storms that rage outside.

Syria Relief’s team on the ground spoke to Abdulraheem, a Syrian refugee living in a tent on the Lebanese border, about the struggles that are faced during the winter months:

“Winter is tragic. We can’t sleep at night. I’m constantly worrying about my children. Our shelter is wood, the wind could blow it away. The tent could collapse on top of us. The entire camp is suffering. My kitchen was blown away by a storm last year.”

The region is in the grip of a severe economic crisis. Basics such as fuel for heating are impossible to afford. But despite this, thousands of Syrian refugees are facing cuts to financial support, forcing parents like Abdulraheem to make desperate decisions to survive.

"I am barely getting any support. We’re 9, they only support 6 of us. It’s not enough to go around. I have to choose if I pay for medication or food.”

This winter will be a major struggle for survival. Research commissioned by Syria Relief found that 35 percent of internally displaced Syrians know someone who has either fallen ill or died due to the freezing conditions.

And against this backdrop of misery, Syria is experiencing the most severe wave of COVID-19 yet recorded, with daily new cases reaching a record high of 1,500. Displacement camps have been hit notably hard - a combination of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and poor access to healthcare leads to the rapid spread of infection.

Abdulraheem had this to say regarding the health situation inside the camp:

“If I needed medication right now, it would cost at least 100 thousand. It would be cheaper to send someone to Syria to buy the medication. These conditions are uninhabitable.”

Were it not for the generosity of our donors, Abdulraheem’s situation would be even more difficult:

“Syria Relief came last year and did some work on the tent, giving it extra support. They told us how important it is to get regular maintenance done for the tents.”

Interventions such as these are crucial in helping refugees survive the winter. They provide vital support amid disastrous circumstances.

This winter, our emergency team is on the ground in Syria and Lebanon ensuring that no one is left behind. As well as cash assistance, we distribute winter survival packs containing food, clothing, blankets and mattresses.