When seen during the summer, the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon are made of tents of similar sizes, composed of the remains of street ads and of the nylon tents provided by the UN. Winter, according to Badr Askar, 35, shows the grim reality of these camps: tents torn by strong winds, pools and puddles of rain-water collecting between the them, and a bitter cold that cannot be driven away by heaters which long ago ran out of fuel.
Askar is originally from the Adnan area of Raqqa, in the north of Syria. He is the father of eight children living in difficult conditions in one of the Bekaa camps in eastern Lebanon. He spoke of the dire situation of the camp in winter, and on how the money provided for the refugees by the UNHCR ($27 per person per month) is not enough to fight off the terrible conditions. "We call on God to return us to our land as soon as possible," he said in an interview with 7DNews.
In Lebanon, 69% of Syrian refugee families still live below the poverty line, while more than 51% live on less than $2.90 per day, according to a report prepared by three UN agencies. Winter often burdens these Syrian refugees with "additional costs of heating, health care and clothing," said the UNHCR spokesperson in Lebanon, Lisa Abu Khalid.
Speaking to 7DNews, Abu Khaled said that for some families this is the eighth consecutive winter in Lebanon, which means that they have already spent most of their savings, if not all, in the preceding years. Simultaneously, they have to deal with a decline in revenue resources. Even if some families are able to find work, it is usually seasonal - agriculture, construction - and cuts off in the winter.
This is what is evident during our tour of some of the camps. In Camp No. 002 in the Taiba area we met Sabha Khallouf al-Muhammad, 55, who despite the bad weather was roaming the camp, collecting what was left of the torn nylon and old rags to burn in her heater and protect her family from the cold, after a storm that left the tents covered in snow.
Al-Mohammad told 7DNews that she does not receive any assistance from the United Nations. According to her, she is living off of the food that the people in the camp can spare. As for her rent, 20 thousand LL per month for the spot of land her tent is on, she informed us that the man in charge of the camp, Abu Khalil, pays it for her.
The UNHCR works throughout the year to ensure that displaced people living in substandard conditions, including those living in camps, have the plastic sheeting and wood needed to protect their tents. When the tents are damaged, UNHCR teams respond to emergencies and work with partners to ensure that refugees are protected from the consequences.
In winter, for example, the UNHCR also works to reach 134,000 families (670,000 people) who do not receive monthly cash assistance (US $173 per month) and provides winter cash grants to help them meet their additional needs, such as fuel, clothing, blankets and medicine, giving each family $75 a month for a period of five months (a total of $375), according to the UNHCR spokesperson. The UNHCR also provides a one-month loan to families already benefiting from the monthly cash programme.
Yet all of this aid is not sufficient for the basic needs of the Syrian refugees, especially those living in the camps. In order to compensate for the shortfall, a UN study found that more than 90% of the Syrian refugee families apply a variety of negative adjustment strategies. The food adaptation strategies range from eating cheaper food to fasting for several days, while adaptive livelihood strategies range from debt to child labour.
The United Nations says 9 out of 10 families have food adjustment strategies, with 97% of families applying livelihood adjustment strategies. Overall, 88% of Syrian refugee families in Lebanon are in debt financially.