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Winter storm brings more misery to Syrian refugees

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WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said the agency plans to provide aid to 1.5 million of the 2.5 million Syrians that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent says are internally displaced. But the lack of security and the agency’s inability to use the Syrian port of Tartus for its shipments means that a large number of people in the some of the country’s hardest hit areas will not get help, she said.

"Our main partner, the Red Crescent, is overstretched and has no more capacity to expand further," Byrs said.

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The stormy weather also added to the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, where there have been torrential rains and flooding throughout the country. Private and public schools in Lebanon were closed Tuesday and Wednesday, when the storm was expected to be at its peak.

Two Syrian refugee encampments in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley were immersed in water after the Litani River flooded. Dozens of Syrian refugees left in search of alternate shelter along with their soaked and muddy belongings.

Hiam al-Hussein, a 23-year-old from Syria’s war ravaged Homs district of Baba Amr, was among a group of refugees who were sheltering in an open garage near the flooded al-Faour encampment.

"We had brought along with us a couple of mattresses, some carpets. Everything is gone now," she said, wearing a sweater, pajama pants and a pink scarf.

"God help the women and children. The river flooded last night and suddenly everything around us was swept away and swimming in water," said Abdullah Taleb, a refugee from the northern city of Aleppo who arrived in Lebanon three months ago with his wife and two children. "It’s a nightmare we are living — a nightmare."

In the eastern Lebanese town of Marj near the Syrian border, refugees reinforced flooded tents, and some were blown away in the wind and rain. The small settlement of about 40 tents donated by a Saudi charity and set up in cooperation with the UNHCR houses mostly women and children.

"You tell me, is this a life?" cried a middle-aged woman who gave her name as Ghalia. She fled with her son to Lebanon after her husband died in shelling of the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun last year.

"We’ve been driven away from Syria by the war and we cannot afford rent prices in Lebanon. We have nothing but the clothes we brought with us to this tent, and now look at us!" she said as water seeped into her tent.

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Imad al-Shummari, head of the al-Marj municipality, said authorities were working with the refugees to reinforce their tents and provide alternate shelter, as well as distributing heaters and extra blankets and other needs.

"We had flooding in many areas," he said.

Lebanon has about 175,000 Syrian refugees, according to U.N. figures, although the Lebanese government estimates the number at 200,000. Most are in schools and apartments, but a few are staying in tents they pitched near the Syrian border.

The cold and rainy weather also was causing problems at camps in Turkey, and tragedy struck at one site. Fire spread through several tents at the Suleyman Shah refugee camp, killing two children and injured four other people, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. A 5-year-old child died at the scene, while a 15-year-old died later of his injuries in a hospital.

The fire apparently was caused by the refugees’ illegal use of electricity that is provided for radiators for the tents, said Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay.

Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, which oversees the refugee camps, said authorities have been preparing for winter conditions since August. An official from the unit in charge of the preparations said all refugees were given winter boots, warm clothing, coats and blankets in November.

Almost all of the tents were either revamped for cold weather or replaced with ones able to withstand winter conditions, he said. All tents have heaters, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of government rules.

Despite that, Mohammed al-Abed, a 30-year-old Syrian in Turkey’s Yayladagi camp, said conditions were "cold, wet and miserable."

Temperatures were close to freezing, he said, adding that the tents were equipped with heaters but that bathrooms and lavatories were about 300-500 yards away.

"Often there’s a long line of people, including freezing children, waiting in the cold to use the bathrooms," he said.

"There is no hot water. People are getting sick, especially the children. There are lots of coughing, infections and people with colds," he added.

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