Tuesday 15 January 2013
Winter shelter offered to Syrian refugees in LebanonThe snow storm last week also hit Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq, where ShelterBox distibuted winterised shelters and other lifesaving supplies to 500 families, January 2013.
ShelterBox is offering a practical winter response to the Lebanese government’s call for international help with its growing Syrian refugee crisis.
Already 190,000 Syrian people have registered in Lebanon as refugees although it is believed that the figure is more than 300,000. It is feared that should fighting in Damascus intensify a further one million could be on the move towards Lebanon within days. Last week the Beirut government broke a year-long hiatus by saying it will register and recognise the refugees, asking for $180 million worth of international aid:
‘We stress the commitment of the Lebanese government to provide shelter and protection to Syrian refugees.’
A ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) has been on the Syria / Lebanon border assessing needs and building a network of local implementing partners made up of non-governmental organisations, community groups, Imams and health workers to help with aid distribution.
They are now standing by to receive a consignment in the form of hundreds of ShelterBoxes. These contain winterised tents, blankets, groundsheets and other equipment to help displaced families that have fled civil war, but are now caught in bitter winter storms, the worst in the region for 20 years.
SRT member Fiona McElroy (UK) describes the hundreds of thousands of Syrians as the ‘hidden homeless’.
‘It is not immediately obvious, but once you drive through Lebanese neighbourhoods it is possible to see that refugee families are living in really terrible conditions right across the country,’ said Fiona.
‘Many are now resorting to living in whatever structures they can find vacant. We met one family living alongside farm animals in outbuildings. There are unfinished houses still under construction, and Syrian families have moved into these buildings, most of which have no windows, power or running water. They are ice cold and not wind or waterproof.
‘Some landlords have allowed makeshift tents on their land, and others charge rent and electricity for structures often riddled with mould and damp. Many house three families with up to ten children and are terribly overcrowded. But some families have spent the money they brought with them, and now have to move on as winter weather closes in but in reality, they have nowhere to go.
‘We saw a recently arrived family living in a metal container, which in the current sub-zero temperatures would be cold enough to be life threatening.’
Fiona and colleagues David Webber (UK) and Mark Van Alphen (NL) accept that they are operating in a complex political landscape. So far the Beirut government’s official stance has been to distance itself from the Syrian conflict, wary of destabilising its own delicate community balance. So last week’s call for aid was significant.
There has also been a presumption against setting up refugee camps in Lebanon. So, once tents and equipment arrive Fiona and the team will work to ensure that families are supported in the communities they are already living in, and that the distribution will be ‘sensitive and discreet.’
ShelterBox is advanced in its response among international relief organisations in already having permission from Lebanon’s Minister of Social Affairs, Wael Abu Faour, for an agreed quantity of ShelterBoxes to be sent to the country specifically for Syrian refugees.
The SRT has already visited the Bekaa valley – Chtaura, Barelias municipality and Aarsal. In these areas, families have arrived from all over Syria, but mostly from Homs, Idlib, Damascus and Aleppo. Refugees in the mountainous areas further north are particularly vulnerable, as there is very little shelter from the icy winds and snow.