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Syrian refugees in Lebanon suffer worst during blizzards

Editing: Mohamad Alaa |
TranslationEditor: Vera Halvorsen |
Translation: Maan Salti
Publication date: 2019/01/16 07:10

Turkey - SMART

The Meteorological Department of the Lebanese Civil Aviation Authority expected a blizzard to hit Lebanon on Wednesday, while the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are still clearing the snow from last week in camps in the Arsal and Beqaa areas.

Previous storm destroys 600 refugee tents in Beqaa area

Ahmad Abu Shaar, the program manager for the Mulham Voluntary Team, told SMART that more than 600 tents in the Beqaa area were completely destroyed from the storm that hit the area a week earlier.

The Mulham Voluntary Team is a group of activists that raises money and provides services to internally displaced persons in Syria and Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, in addition to looking after sick people and orphans.

Abu Shaar said that the tents were destroyed and covered in snow, adding that several organizations worked together to move refugee families to housing centers and provide them with food and warm clothes.

Abu Shaar said that a study estimated that replacing the tents would cost more than $240 thousand dollars, divided between reconstructing, reinforcing, and refurnishing the tents.

Thousands of refugees need emergency aid in Arsal area

Abu Shaar said that the Arsal area in Lebanon is home to 106 Syrian refugee camps consisting of 7,200 tents and more than 50 thousand refugees, all of whom need emergency aid after the snow storm, according to the Arsal municipality.

Abu Shaar added that all 7,200 tents in Arsal were considered destroyed by the snow, and that the refugees urgently need fuel for heating.

Abu Shaar added that the Mulham Voluntary Team does not have enough information about the type of support provided for the refugees by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), saying that several refugees told him that they receive $25 dollars per family member per month, while several families were excluded from the agency's aid program.

Abu Shaar said that the storm the Syrian refugees had to face the week before was a "disaster," warning of the dangers of the coming storm.

Snow falls at 500 meters above sea level and wind speed reaches 100 kilometers per hour

The Lebanese Meteorological Department expected a blizzard to begin with heavy rain and hail on Wednesday at 12:00 noon, followed by snowfall at 1,300 meters above sea level and later at 500 meters, especially in eastern Lebanon.

The meteorological department said that the wind speed would exceed 100 kilometers per hour, warning that the storm may topple road signs and trees.

The Lebanese government declared a state of emergency in the areas with Syrian refugee camps.

The Lebanese National News Agency said that the Lebanese Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk declared a state of emergency to help the refugees and promised to stay in active contact with the Lebanese Civil Defense and Red Cross during the coming storm.

Abu Shaar said that the Mulham team's plans are currently limited to providing housing centers and other basic services for the refugees, adding that the refugees are in need of "a radical solution, such as caravans or prebuilt houses."

Abu Shaar also said that the land on which the refugee camps were built is owned by multiple individuals who needed the Lebanese government's approval to build the tent structures. Abu Shaar said that the UN and international organizations must put pressure on the Lebanese government to approve more durable camp projects.

UN responds to storm by sending warning messages to refugees in English

Abu Shaar verbally criticized the UNHCR, confirming that the Mulham Team volunteers had not seen any UN or other international organizations in the field during the previous storm.

Abu Shaar said that the UN's response was limited to sending text messages to the refugees, reading, "Please reinforce your tent against rain and snow. Please find good shelter during the storm." Abu Shaar affirmed that some of the text messages were sent in English without an Arabic translation.

Abu Shaar described the messages as "a shame and a disgrace" for the UN, pointing out that the latest UN statements said that the UN was working on "observing the needs" of the refugees. Abu Shaar wondered if it was normal for the UN to "observe" for eight years while knowing about the disastrous conditions of the refugees.

A week earlier, Syrian refugees in Lebanon appealed to humanitarian organizations for support during the blizzard. The refugees struggled to reach medical centers due to the deep snow, while the number of patients with seasonal sicknesses increased due to the cold.

On Jan. 10, 2019, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon Philippe Lazzarini stated that 70 percent of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who reached one million one hundred thousand in number, live under the poverty line despite the amount of international aid and solidarity for the "Lebanon situation," estimated at $1.5 billion dollars per year since 2015.

While the UN tries to explain the channels in which the relief money was spent in the last eight years, more than 50 thousand Syrian refugees, according to the Arsal municipality, are still facing 100 kilometers per hour wind in the exposed Arsal hills.