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Syrian refugees face harsh winter

31st Jan 2014

mnews297 - p8 -14

Shatha Khalil,  Bab Al Salam Camp

In need of respite from their place of refuge, Syrian refugees are facing the harshest winter in 100 years and many are struggling to survive.

Watching children walking barefooted in the freezing cold conditions of Bab Al Salam camp in Syria is shocking, but this is what life has become for the refugees.

Thousands live in cramped conditions along the Turkish border. Living two to three families to a tent with no heating, running water or access to basic amenities. They live off handouts provided by aid organisations and money they have brought with them.

The refugees living in the camps fled northern Syria when the fighting broke out in Aleppo and the surrounding areas. Many have witnessed family members killed in rocket attacks. While others, scared of what may happen, fled their homes when their neighbourhoods were being shelled.

Escaping with only the clothes on their backs, they were unprepared for the harsh winter which now greets them, the coldest in 100 years. Temperatures have plummeted and several inches of snow have fallen in Syria. Toddlers have frozen to death, unable to cope with the extreme climate.

Though organisations are working to ease their suffering, the influx of refugees means they are unable to cope with the numbers at hand. No amount of aid is sufficient as refugee numbers keep rising.

Moving through the camp, the immensity of it was hard to absorb. Refugees are living in tents placed on top of the muddy floor. Though the tents provide respite from the falling rain, they do little for any subsequent groundwater which easily seeps through soaking their bedding.

Trapped in a war torn country with no ability to obtain necessary travel documents or funds to buy identification papers. Some try to cross the border illegally but what meets them on the other side isn’t always a haven.

Turkey’s camps are also overflowing and refugees are often forced to fend for themselves, living rough at times until they are able to find accommodation and a source of income to pay the rent. Several Syrians living in Kilis, Turkey, a town just 10 minutes drive from the Syrian border, spoke of the high cost of living in particular when compared to Syria. The Syrian currency has collapsed and the exchange rate means they are unable to survive on funds they have smuggled with them.

Many are unable to afford heating or suitable winter garments. Noor, a 20-year-old Syrian lady working in the Wool Project, said: “I earn the money my family spend on rent and bills. I asked my mum for boots for winter but she said we cannot afford it. My siblings are young and I support them all since my father and brother were martyred.”

The Wool Project is an initiative set up by Unite 4 Humanity, a UK based organisation whose aim is to help Syrians in need. The project hires widows and those in need to make wool jumpers for refugees living in Turkey and Syria.

Many refugees chose to work with this initiative after months of working for Turkish companies. The difference in treatment played a major role in their decision to take on this job.

“For the Turks we worked long hours, 8am-7pm. Here we work fewer hours for better pay. They take good care of us and we’re in an environment where it’s all women and we’re comfortable,” Reem, an 18-year-old employee said.

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