Winter is a hard time of the year for many people. The short days, long nights, freezing temperatures, and unpleasant weather conditions make it a bleak time that most people wish away. Fortunately, the majority of us can hide away indoors from the harsh reality of this time of the year, distracting ourselves with ambient lighting, cosy blankets, and warm central heating, but this isn’t the case for millions of Syrian refugees.
It’s thought that there are more than 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees living in camps across Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. In addition to the registered refugees, there are countless more who are unregistered but who are in need of urgent help. Coupled with over 6.7 million internally displaced people still living within Syria, it’s the world’s biggest displacement crisis, and it’s only exasperated by winter.
Winter in a Refugee Camp
Whilst refugee camps are the best option for those forced out of their homes due to conflict and political unrest, they’re far from adequate for winter. The shelters are often flimsy and severely overcrowded, offering little protection from strong winds and plunging temperatures. Despite the efforts of aid agencies looking to address the Syria winter crisis, lots of refugees are effectively still living in tents. As winter rolls around, a tent is simply not enough to beat back the biting winds, driving rain, and frosty mist.
On top of the shelter issues, resources are limited. This means there aren’t enough provisions to go around, leaving many refugees in the camps without proper winter clothing and blankets to wrap up in. You might think that because a lot of Syrians seek refuge in nearby countries in Asia and the Middle East, winter isn’t so bad and the weather isn’t cold, but this isn’t the case. Temperatures can easily dip below freezing, and when you don’t have so much as a blanket for cover, it can be deadly.
As well as poor shelter and limited resources, winter diseases run rife through Syrian refugee camps. Outside of developing countries, it’s standard practice for the population to get flu vaccinations to protect from the deadly yet preventable illness. Unfortunately, vaccines are hard to get into camps, meaning the spread of disease is high. Thousands of people become ill and many die needlessly. If the flu and hypothermic temperatures don’t kill them, there’s every risk other preventable diseases like polio will.
Healthcare facilities are limited and vastly overrun. This means children born in the camps don’t immediately receive their necessary vaccinations, putting them at risk of contracting preventable illnesses. In addition, many elderly and clinically vulnerable Syrians are also at risk of having their lives cut short needlessly due to cramped conditions providing the perfect breeding ground for fatal illnesses, and a lack of accessible healthcare to treat such illnesses.