Smiling through the harsh winters in a refugee camp

Smiling through the harsh winters in a refugee camp
3 min read
03 Jan, 2016
Syrian refugees in Lebanon brace through another snowstorm as another harsh winter sets in.
A little Syrian girl finds joy in brushing the snow back and forth [AFP]
Amidst the snow that blankets the refugee camp, the warm smile of a little Syrian girl breaks through the coldness of her surroundings.

The little girl's camp sits on a white hill of the Bekaa Valley, northeast Lebanon, where the UNHCR has set up a number of refugee camps. But these may not be able to stand much longer in the face of yet another devasting winter

The first days of 2016 have once again seen the onset of harsh snowstorms across Syria and Lebanon.

But as the world's eyes turned to the flow of desperate refugees fleeing to Europe the plight of those remaining in refugee camps is increasingly forgotten.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are again facing rapidly dropping temperatures and heavy snowfall forcing them into another constant struggle to keep their camps warm enough for their young children.

"The number of years that refugees have stayed here means that they are facing increased vulnerabilities, all of their savings have been depleted, many have moved into the settlements because they are cheaper than living in flats or apartments in town," said UNHCR's Maeve Murphy.

"They are not used to these conditions. It is practically impossible to find a job and therefore they have no income and are totally reliant on resources from humanitarian agencies," Murphy added.

Last year, the UNHCR reported that hundreds of refugee shelters and tents in Lebanon were damaged by the harsh winters.

Flooding and high winds ruined even the most basic winter essentials, including blankets and mattresses, as the agency was forced to call for the rapid distribution of emergency stocks.

The UNHCR reported that the refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley were amongst the hardest hit by harsh winters last year.

More than one million Syrian refugees are living in insecure shelters in Lebanon

This year seems to be no different.

More than one million Syrian refugees are living in insecure shelters in Lebanon. In anticipation harsh winters ahead, UNHCR has distributed cold weather aids.

"Every year we learn more from what we should have done and what we can do better," UNHCR's Bathoul Ahmed said. "One thing we know for sure is that we have to be prepared early."
The 2015 annual report on Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, said about 70 per cent of the refugees in Lebanon are now living below the extreme poverty line.

Yet for other Syrian refugees, snow was met with joy.

Refugee children recently arriving in Canada have been seen enjoying the heavy snow stomping through it; tossing it into the air; laughing with their families in their new safe homes.

Canada received just over 6,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, with a warm welcome amidst the harsh winters.

Yet for many Syrians forgotten in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and other neighbouring states relocation to the European and American continents is but a dream.

The little Syrian girl in her refugee camp on the hill chooses to defy the winter's cold and harsh living conditions.

Instead, she picks up a nearby broom and pushes the snow back and forth. She smiles at the small joy this brings.

In her defiance is a hidden strength that may be wiped out by yet another year of unbearable living as Syrians approach their sixth year of displacement.