Winter Storm Brings More Misery to Syrian Refugees

ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) -
A Syrian refugee boy makes his way through water and mud, next to a UNICEF school at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)
A Syrian refugee boy makes his way through water and mud, next to a UNICEF school at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

A winter storm is magnifying the misery for tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the country’s civil war, turning a refugee camp into a muddy swamp where howling winds tore down tents and exposed the displaced residents to freezing temperatures.

Some frustrated refugees at a camp in Zaatari, where about 50,000 are sheltered, attacked aid workers with sticks and stones after the tents collapsed in 35 mph (60 kph) winds, said Ghazi Sarhan, spokesman for the Jordanian charity that helps run the camp. Police said seven Jordanian workers were injured.

After three days of rain, muddy water engulfed tents housing refugees including women and infants. Those who didn’t move out used buckets to bail out the water; others built walls of mud to try to stay dry.

Conditions in the Zaatari camp were “worse than living in Syria,” said Fadi Suleiman, a 30-year-old refugee.

Most of Zaatari’s residents are children under age 18 and women. They are some of the more than 280,000 Syrians who fled to Jordan since the uprising against President Bashar Assad broke out in March 2011. As the fighting has increased in recent weeks, the number of displaced has risen.

About a half-million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries including Turkey and Lebanon to escape the civil war that has killed an estimated 60,000 people in nearly two years of fighting. Wet and wintry weather across the Middle East has made conditions miserable for refugees in those countries as well – even flooding two camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley after a river overflowed its banks.

Several large pools of standing water — including one nearly the size of a football field and about 4 inches deep — have spread in the Zaatari camp. Children clad only in plastic sandals waded in despite the frigid water. An old woman wore plastic bags on her feet as she walked to pick up some food.

“Zaatari is sinking,” said a refugee who gave his name as Abu Bilal from the southern Syrian town of Dara’a, across the border. The 21-year-old father of two toddlers said his tent has been flooded for days, and when he appealed for help, he was turned away by both the U.N. refugee agency and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, which administer the camp.

His family of five lives in a neighbor’s cramped cloth tent, which already houses eight people.

Last month, the U.N. said it needed $1 billion to aid Syrians in the region, while $500 million was required to help refugees in Jordan. The UNHCR says 597,240 refugees have registered or are awaiting registration with the agency in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Some countries have higher estimates, noting many have found accommodations without registering.

“We have asked the international community to step up and support the Syrian refugees with better infrastructure, like trailers and prefabricated units, to deal with harsh winter elements,” Bibi said.