Millions of families around the world are looking forward to enjoying the holiday period with their families. However, for families caught up in the Lebanon winter crisis, thoughts of the holiday period are far from mind. The only thing important to them at this time of year, winter, is keeping warm and surviving the cold harsh weather.
Families Fled From One Conflict Only to Face More
Families fled their villages and the conflict around them. While they might have escaped from the conflict, they are now facing a brand new threat, the bitter cold along with rain and icy waters that threaten to flood the tents they now call home.
The refugee camps in Lebanon are bleak, muddy, wet and extremely cold as families huddle around small fires trying to warm themselves. Children sit with red runny noses their toes and fingers red-raw and freezing and the wind blows around them.
A Homeland They Cannot Return To
The Government in Lebanon estimates around 1.5 million Syrian refugees have taken refuge. (1) They are trapped away from a homeland, to which they cannot return.This figure does not take into account the many who resettled, who was smuggled out of Lebanon or who did return to Syria.
In the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, refugees try to live out the winter in nothing morethan tents and the little clothing they managed to take with them. It iscommonplace for children to get sick. The families live in constant fear withnothing to keep them warm and dry, away from the cold and rain.
December and January are the coldest months in Lebanon. (2) The temperature is around 5 degrees centigrade to 10 degrees centigrade. When night drops, so do the temperatures, often below zero.
The refugees cannot turn the heating up a degree or two to keep them warm. Nor can they put on warm winter clothing, scarves, gloves, and hats. Many do not possess such luxurious items. Around 70% of all rainfall in the country occurs from November to March.
Refugees Are Fleeing the Country They Turned to For Help
In December 2018, there are around 175,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (3). This has dropped drastically from the 450,000 who had registered with the U.N over the years. Many refugees have fled the country they went to for safety and security.
Conditions are so bad that many risk escaping Lebanon by boat to reach the shores of countries such as Cyprus. In winter, the seas are an even crueler place. Human Rights Watch researcher, Sara Kayyali spoke about the refugees saying the increase in people risking their lives to leave Lebanon only goes to show that the conditions they are living in are getting worse. She went on to determine that Lebanon is becoming an environment that is even more hostile. (4)
Thousands had fled to Lebanon only to face dire economic conditions along with government regulations that left them without even the most basic of rights.
Since August 2018 the number of refugees, fleeing from the horrors of life in Lebanon by boat to Cyprus has increased. Sadly, many never make it. Boats are overcrowded and there are not enough life jackets to go around. In September 2015, a family, mother, son aged 5 and a son aged three lost their lives when the boat they were in capsized. (5)
This highlighted the plight of the Refugee crisis in Lebanon, and just how badly people wished to get away from the horrors that winter was bringing.
Three Years Later Little Has Changed
There was a national outcry following reports in the media of the body of little Aylan washed up on a beach, but little Aylan Kurdi and his family have quickly been forgotten.
Three years after the death of Aylan Kurdi and his family, not much has changed. The world is still witnessing families suffering and dying as they try to find safety, warmth and a decent happy life.
In the Bekaa Valley, temperatures in winter are often below freezing. Storms leave families vulnerable to freezing to death, while the money available to assist them dwindles.
There are around 2,400 informal settlements, nothing more than camps with tents, in Lebanon. (6) The government does not allow people to build official camps. The freezing rain lashes against the tents during the winter, running down to flood the ground. It seeps into the ground, the very ground the people have to lie down to sleep on. It drips through gaps in the tarpaulins used for ceilings and walls. The few items of clothing and mattresses are soiled, freezing cold and wet.
Many Syrians have lived in the Lebanon refugee camps for seven years. Each year it gets more difficult than the one before to deal with the harsh winters. Entire families huddle together in a single tent, called home, trying to keep warm as their teeth chatter and limbs aching from the extreme cold.
Countless families get pushed around and displaced; children grow up without an education and in poor health due to the squalor and bitter environment. Camps are overcrowded. Many people live together in tents, others in abandoned warehouses, animal sheds or unsafe unfinished buildings. They all share the same life, restriction of their movements, no access to even the most basic of services & lack of healthcare.
Child labor is a genuine concern. It is estimated around 4.8% of refugee children From Syria between the ages of 5 and 17 are forced to work. (7)
While the European Commission has been providing humanitarian funding since 2011 to the tune of $519 million, the refugee crisis in Lebanon remains unchanged, a crisis.
It is not a question of if families die this winter; it is a questions of how many.