Evacuations are underway in the Syrian refugee camps across Lebanon after they were hit by snow storms and floods as part of Hurricane Norma.
UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said this week that the storm had completely flooded or collapsed 15 informal settlements out of at least 66 that were “heavily impacted”.
“UNHCR and partners estimate that approximately 850 informal settlements, hosting 50,000 refugees, are at risk of flooding. The response is coordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNHCR, in close cooperation with affected municipalities”, the report added.
Photos from the Arsal, the largest refugee camp in Lebanon, showed tents and roads covered in several feet of snow as people attempted to navigate the treacherous conditions, despite having unsuitable clothing for the sub-zero temperatures. Some also attempted to lay rock salt on the tents to prevent them from freezing, even as water leaked inside, flooding the ground.
Activists took to social media to launch the hashtag “Arsal is weeping” in a bid to raise awareness and urgent funds for charities working on the ground.
— ابو الهدى الحمصي (@aboalhodaalhoms) January 9, 2019
Floods and strong winds have also been affecting several other camps in the country, with local media sources confirming the death of an eight-year-old Syrian girl in the northern Lebanese town of Minya, after she was swept away by floods in front of her house.
On Monday, the Lebanese Red Cross said it had rescued more than 500 people from Al-Samaqiah refugee settlement after their tents filled with floodwater, and transferred them to another camp where they were given emergency aid.
Lebanese media also quoted the Mayor of Arsal, Basel al-Hujairi, affirming that ploughs were working on clearing the snow from the camps, but added that the availability of aid and funds for resettlement were insufficient.
The UNHCR has been facing a budget shortage for several months, and was forced to suspended food rations and aid for 8,000 Syrian families in September, as it looked to prioritise the most vulnerable
Last year, the UN’s refugee agency made an urgent appeal for donations, stating that it needed $44 million of its previously announced $270 million total, to stop cash assistance activities ceasing in November. Overall, the agency supports more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees registered across Turkey Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, 2.6 million of who are children.
Syrians displaced inside and outside the country have faced worsened humanitarian conditions this winter, with many severely lacking basic food and medical supplies in the face of frequent storms and floods. Neighbouring countries have also been accused of neglecting management of camps in an attempt to persuade Syrians to return to homes that are once again under the jurisdiction of the regime, as the war seems to wind to a close.
Whilst thousands have been driven back into government-held territory due to the harsh living conditions over the past few months, many have still refused the offer due to fear of reprisals by the regime upon their return.