Refugees in Europe battle to survive deadly winter

Refugees in Europe battle to survive deadly winter
Snow storms and sub-zero temperatures have left at least six refugees dead as aid agencies make an urgent plea to help thousands of people survive the deadly winter.
3 min read
12 January, 2017
Some 2,000 refugees are sleeping rough in Serbia [Getty]
Refugees stranded in Europe are freezing to death as aid groups grapple with one of the harshest winters to hit the region. 

At least six people – three refugees in Bulgaria, one in Greece and two refugees in Lebanon – have succumbed to sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall across the region. 

The UN's migration agency has made a desperate plea for aid.

"It is imperative that the world responds to the dangers exposed by these extreme weather conditions with food aid, shelter and other resources in the short term and long term," said William Lacy Swing, the IOM Director General.

Read more: Syrians in Europe: We've been here before

The extreme weather has brought particular fear for the lives and wellbeing of 15,500 refugees, housed in camps on Greek Islands, including many in places that have been hit hard with snowfall.

Additionally, some 6,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey are reported to be without adequate shelter – out of a total refugee population of about three million.

More than 7,500 people are currently stranded in Serbia, living in accommodation without adequate winter protection, IOM reported.

Also, in makeshift refugee settlements in Lebanon, some 100 incidents of tents collapsing were reported.

Organisations such as Help Refugees, which has helped refugees in Greece by installing heaters in camps and providing hot water bottles and warm winter clothing, have intensified calls for help. 

"We are devastated to hear reports of people losing their lives and coming close to hypothermia due to what we view as avoidable exposure to the freezing conditions in South East Europe," Help Refugees co-founder Josie Naughton said.

"We call on governments, large organisations and international agencies to reassess their bureaucratic procedures and spend money where it's needed to prevent further loss of life.

The group has footage from a reception centre Lesvos, which hosts some 5,800 people, 40 percent of whom are believed to be children, showing people emerging in the morning from freezing, often poorly insulated tents, covered in snow.

In Belgrade, Serbia, where temperatures drop to minus 20 at night, some 2,000 refugees are sleeping rough, Human Rights Watch has said.

The rights group has also alleged the Serbian authorities refused requests from aid groups to help stranded refugees.

"The Serbian government ignored several requests by aid groups in November and December, including from Medecins Sans Frontieres, to build temporary and winterised camps," Lydia Gall, a HRW researcher in the region, said

In Paris, police have been accused of harassing refugees, waking them up in the middle of the night, using tear gas to disperse them and not allowing them to sit down as they queue for a place in a shelter, MSF programme coordinator Corinne Torre told The Independent.