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Syrian Refugees Prepare for Winter in Lebanon

Syrian refugees, fleeing the recent fighting in Arsal, wait by trucks in the Bekaa valley, near the Lebanese border with Syria.

Syrian refugees, fleeing the recent fighting in Arsal, wait by trucks in the Bekaa valley, near the Lebanese border with Syria.

Colder weather conditions are slowly returning to the Middle East. Reports from Lebanon say areas around the border with Syria are at risk. Observers note that Islamic State militants and al-Nusra fighters have set up camps in the mountains. But Syrian refugees say more frightening than the gunmen is the coming cold weather.

Most of Lebanon’s one million Syrian refugees live in the Bekaa Valley, across the border from Syria. They crowd shelters on farmland or in empty areas.

Islamist militants are believed to be hiding in the surrounding mountains. Many refugees fear the Islamic State or al-Nusra fighters will again attack Lebanon in an effort to expand outside Syria and Iraq.

In late October, militant groups battled with the Lebanese Army in the city of Tripoli. The fighting was described as the worst since last August. At that time, al-Nusra and the Islamic State briefly controlled the border town of Arsal.

But some Syrian refugees say they fear the coming winter more than the militants. At a camp in Zahle, aid workers passed out supplies to help families strengthen the houses they mostly built themselves. Mohammad al-Sheik told VOA the new materials may not be enough to protect his eight children.

He says that about half a meter of snow fell in the Bekaa Valley last year. He worries that some of the weaker shelters will collapse.

Aid workers say they are hoping to get supplies to as many people as possible. However, as the fighting in Syria gets worse, refugees are crossing the border in large numbers.

Hiba Fares works with the non-governmental organization Medair.

“The number of refugees is huge and increases day by day in Lebanon. So we are always in need of more donations. As you noticed, we try to distribute to as many families with the kits we have, but there is always a bit of shortage because suddenly we bump into newcomers.”

Medair is one of many organizations attempting to ease what the United Nations has called the “biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.”

Refugee families say their biggest fear this winter is not being able to pay for medicine if their children get sick.

Basha Hussein is the wife of Mohammed al-Sheik and the mother of their eight children. She says most families in the camp do not have any heaters in their homes. If they do, she says, they often do not have enough money to pay for fuel.

Some women say the humiliation or sadness of living in tents in the dirt is worse than dealing with the cold weather or lack of food.

Some refugee children say their main fear is that aid workers will not have enough blankets for the refugees before the snow arrives.

I’m Mario Ritter.

*This report was based on a story from reporter Heather Murdock in Zahle, Lebanon. George Grow wrote the story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in this Story

weather – n. the condition of the atmosphere resulting from snow, wind, rain, heat or cold

refugees n. people who have been forced to flee because of unjust treatment, danger or war

shelter n. something that gives protection; a place of safety

winter n. the coldest time of year, between autumn and spring

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