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The Hardest Days: Winter Brings Fear for Syrian Refugees

by Lauren Fisher, emergency communications, World Vision

9-year-old Ayat looks at the blankets in her home — a tent in Za'atari Camp.
Myada and her family are counting blankets.

"During the day it is fine. We have a heater," Myada, a mother of four, says. "But at night we just pile more and more blankets on the children when they are sleeping."

Myada and her children, ages 14 to 9 live in a tent in Za'atari Camp in Jordan. While refugees in Lebanon are facing the biggest winter storm to hit the country in years, families in Jordan are seeing temperatures dip to near freezing and wondering if they may be next.

Turning their heater off at night, just when it's most needed, may seem counterintuitive. But for this family it's survival. Last winter the family saw seven of their neighbor's tents burn down. A cold, drafty tent is better than nothing at all in the dead of winter.

"We have no winter clothes for me and the children," Fo'ad says.

Even worse, they say, is the flooding. Winter in Jordan means rain and even snow. Last year rain left many Za'atari residents with knee-deep water in their tents. Fo'ad tells me even a short rain earlier in the week soaked their mattresses and ruined all of their bread. He says he can't imagine what another winter of heavy rain will mean for him and his family.

The situation is even more desperate for those with younger children. 20-month old Nouras' name translates to 'gull' — a bird that needs to be free, scampering from place to place. If you've ever spent time with a 20-month-old toddler, it's a name that makes sense.

Nouras, a toddler living in Jordan. His parents fled the violence in Syria and are now expecting their second child.
\With another little one on the way in a month, his young parents Anwar and Salam have their hands full. But it's the coming cold weather that keeps them up at night. They live in a small metal trailer.

"I am scared. The weather is getting colder," Anwar, the father, says.

Salam smiles when she talks about the pregnancy, but that smile quickly passes when asked if she's worried.

"I am a little bit scared," she says. "Every woman who is pregnant here is a bit scared. The most frightening part is afterwards - with a newborn. The cold weather, the food and the condition of the food and wondering if it will all be ok for the baby."

These families' stories are not unusual. More than 2.2 million people have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence. Many are living in tented settlements, camps or poorly-equipped apartments that offer little protection from the cold. Within Syria, many of the 6.5 million internally displaced are facing similar challenges.

As one Syrian father in Jordan explained, "We left Syria because our house was destroyed and we were scared for our children. And now we're scared of the cold. Perhaps it's better to be killed by someone than to watch your children die of the cold." In his apartment, there is no heat and no hot water.

Children play in the puddles of Za'atari Camp. World Vision will be working with UNHCR and other agencies to improve drainage and roads.
World Vision teams are working with other aid organizations across the region to help as much as possible, but the scope and scale of the needs are immense. In Za'atari World Vision is digging drainage ditches to help prevent flooding and providing winter coats to children in need. In Lebanon, we have supplies families with blankets and cash vouchers for stoves and fuel ahead of the storm.

In Jordan they have a saying for late December to February — "the hardest forty days." As the temperatures drop to freezing and the rain and snow comes, many are hoping the "hardest forty days" are not more than their families can handle.

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