Three killed as winter storms devastate IDP camps in Iraq, Syria

Three killed as winter storms devastate IDP camps in Iraq, Syria
3 min read
20 January, 2022
Three people have been killed as winter storms devastated refugee camps in Syria and Iraq, with charities warning that more people were at risk due to the bitter cold.
Residents of IDP camps in northwest Syria shovelled snow from their tents to prevent them collapsing [AFP via Getty]

Winter storms have devastated refugee and displacement camps across Syria, humanitarian organisations reported on Wednesday.

Freezing temperatures have also gripped neighbouring Iraq in recent days, where at least three displaced people have died from exposure in the space of 72 hours, according to an Iraqi human rights monitor.

Two children died at the Ashti camp in Sulaymaniah province, as did a 71-year-old woman living in an abandoned house in Diyala province, the Afada observatory said Wednesday.

In Syria, videos and photos posted online by local photographers and residents of the camps showed tents blanketed in white while people showed snow from the roofs of their tents to prevent their collapse.

Several camps have been flooded over the past two days, and at least two hundred tents collapsed, leaving several hundred displaced Syrians without shelter according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

"Desperate scenes in camps for displaced people in northwest Syria today after heavy snow caused many tents to collapse," UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria Mark Cutts tweeted, calling for more humanitarian support.

"There are no words to express the suffering of the people and children here," said Fared Al Mahlool, a photographer based in northwest Syria.

On Tuesday, the humanitarian organization CARE warned that thousands of refugees were at risk as winter storms began across Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

"Temperatures are expected to drop lower than they have in 40 years, reaching -14 degrees and lower. Strong winds reaching up to 80km/h, coupled with heavy hail and snow in mountainous areas are endangering the lives of millions of people living in already precarious circumstances," the organisation wrote in a statement.

While snow was recorded all across Syria, camps in the northwest of the country have been particularly affected.

Hundreds of tents have caved in and aid has become even more difficult to provide as several roads were blocked by the snow and fallen trees.

The provinces of Aleppo and Idlib in northwest Syria are home to around 4 million people, many of whom have been displaced from other areas of the country.

Most live in informal, unplanned camps often set up in unsuitable locations, including fields, mountain slopes, or near river beds.

The camps are flooded and damaged nearly every winter. In December, rainstorms damaged tents housing more than 1,200 people in northwest Syria.

More than 500,000 people have died as a result of the Syrian war, which began in 2011 following the brutal repression of protests by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. 

Over 6 million Syrian civilians are internally displaced, and a further five million have fled the country in search of safety and stability.