Winter Storm Strikes Middle East Refugees

Severe winter snowstorms have blanketed many areas of the Middle East in a thick layer of snow and freezing temperatures, causing serious health problems for many displaced refugees in Lebanon.

Snowstorms have covered large parts of the Middle East with a thick layer of snow, causing severe problems for the many refugees living in vast camps in Lebanon – one of the worst hit regions of the Middle East by the winter storms – who had been escaping conflict in Syria and Iraq.

With icy winds blowing there have been attempts to anchor tents more securely, and prepare for flooding. The UN is also “extremely concerned” about the situation in Jordan, where it is distributing extra blankets.

Snow has fallen in the mountains around Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians live.More than 7.6 million people have been displaced inside Syria since the uprising began in 2011, while more than 3.3 million have fled abroad.

Winter storm Huda, forecast to last several days, has brought snowfall and freezing temperatures to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have also been affected.

In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley – where tens of thousands of refugees are living in tents, and many others in unfinished or unheated buildings – the snow blocked roads and forced many businesses to close.

“Refugees in informal settlements are very cold. Most of them are staying inside their tents to keep warm next to the heating stove,” UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled told press, “Some are wiping the snow off the roof of their makeshift tents because they are worried that they might collapse under the weight of the snow.”

A Red Cross source told the press that the bodies of a Syrian man and a six-year-old boy were found in Ain al-Joz, in the mountains of southern Lebanon. A Lebanese security source said they were overcome by the cold while trying to enter the country on foot.

The Palestinian Authority also declared a state of emergency in the West Bank and Gaza, where tens of thousands of people lost their homes during the war between Israel and Palestinian militants last year.

An eight-month-old baby was killed in a fire caused by a heater in the Tulkarem refugee camp, a civil defence ministry spokesman told the Associated Press.

There was also heavy snowfall in northern Israel and the occupied Golan Heights. Schools in Jerusalem, to the south, also closed.

In Syria, traffic was brought to a near standstill in the capital Damascus, and the education ministry said schools and universities would not open.

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