“Nothing for the winter”: Syrian refugees already feeling the cold in Egypt

Meg-Pruce

 

Meg Pruce, Information and Communications Officer

Save the Children, Egypt Emergency Response

November 15, 2013

 


This week has been the first time I have felt the cold since arriving in Egypt six weeks ago. My morning walk to work now feels noticeably autumnal – however much the palm trees along the way might make you think otherwise. Thankfully my ‘just in case’ attitude to packing means I have a nice warm jumper I can put on during the chillier nights. From my conversations with Syrian refugee families and children, however, it is clear that many of them do not have this luxury.

 

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Ali*, aged three, takes a look at the adult and baby winter blankets being distributed by Save the Children and local partner staff

“We thought that we would only stay three months, and we came in the summer so we didn’t bring any thick clothes”, Osman* tells me during my visit to one of Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces, where Syrian refugee children can play and share their experiences in a safe environment. Osman is thirteen years old and lives in an underprivileged area of Greater Cairo. His family came with enough savings to stay temporarily, but as the conflict in Syria drags on, this money has now dried up and Osman’s family remains displaced. He tells me that it started getting cold two weeks ago, and what they really need are heaters for their home. Even with his two brothers working, however, the family are struggling to pay the rent – leaving little money for the winter items they need.

 

Osman’s story is echoed by Rana*, aged twelve, who I meet in another area of Cairo where many Syrian refugees have settled. Last winter, Rana’s family simply stayed inside as much as they could. This year, they remain unprepared for the upcoming colder months. Describing her current home, Rana tells me “there is nothing for the winter”. All they brought from Syria were some blankets, she says. Neither of her parents work, so they cannot afford to buy warmer clothes for Rana and her brothers and sisters. Rana explains that their Syrian neighbours are having similar problems: they arrived without anything for winter – not expecting Egypt to be cold – and have no money to buy what they need. 

 

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Syrian children receiving their blankets from Save the Children. Save the Children are distributing adult and baby blankets to 1865 vulnerable Syrian refugees to help protect them during Egypt’s colder winter months.

Save the Children has already distributed adult and baby winter blankets in the two areas I visited, helping to protect 1865 vulnerable Syria refugees against the cold. While people’s situations are similar, it was also made clear to me that each family has specific needs depending on their circumstances, which is why we are tailoring our plans to provide freedom of choice. We are looking into using a flexible voucher system so that people can buy the non-food items (NFIs) which best suit their family. This way, whether it is a room heater, carpets or cosy clothes that people need, they can decide for themselves.

 

After hearing the children’s experiences, it gets me thinking about winter in Egypt. The country certainly doesn’t have a reputation for needing to wrap up warm, and the winters are a lot milder than in many countries within the Syrian region. However, handling the colder months is all about preparation and having the right resources. Not knowing how long they will stay for when they flee their country, many refugees simply do not have a choice.

 

*Names have been changed to protect identity

 

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“They know that word. They know cold”




Anonymous

Simine Alam, Regional Information and Communication Manager

Syria Response

October 8, 2013


“My brothers are getting cold, too. My two youngest brothers
can’t

say many words yet, but now when they get cold, they say that
word:“cold”. They know that word. They know cold.” – Rami*,
11 years old, a Syrian refugee living in Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan

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The approximately 120,000 Syrian refugees who live in Za’atari Refugee Camp in North Jordan are going to face extremely tough weather conditions this year. PHOTO: Simine Alam/ Save the Children

 

I
roll up the window to prevent the cold air from coming into the car, as I drive
back from Za’atari Refugee Camp in Northern Jordan to Amman with my colleagues
from Save the Children, who work in the camp every day to provide essential
services for children and their families. As the nutrition counselors exchange
stories about their day with the school counselors, I reflect on the fact that
it’s getting colder every day in Jordan, and this winter has been predicted to
be the most harsh winter in the region, since 100 years ago. This means that the
weather conditions are going to feel even more harsh for the millions of
displaced Syrians in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. This
winter, more than 4 million Syrian children who have been forced to leave their
homes due to the dangers caused by war, are going to be freezing cold.

 

When
I tell people I live in the Middle East, often the first reaction is ‘it must
be so hot there!’ A lot of people associate the desert with intense dry heat
and so it is hard to comprehend that Za’atari, a sprawling tented city in the
desert, home to approximately 120,000 Syrian refugees, is going to face
freezing weather conditions and torrential rainfall this winter. Last winter
Za’atari flooded, and we saw images in the media of Syrian refugees bailing
water and mud out of tents with plates, bowls and brooms. Around 500 tents were
destroyed due to being flooded or blown away with the wind.  

 

This
year the camp has doubled in size. The first thing that strikes you as you
enter Za’atari is the number of children. Children make up more than half of
the camp’s population. In spite of the great efforts various organizations,
including Save the Children, have gone to, to ensure that the children in
Za’atari are enrolled in one of the three schools in the camp or participating
in the activities provided by youth centres, you still see children running
around barefoot, pushing wheelbarrows, playing in the rocky outcrops and sand
in the camp. I wonder if the barefoot children I saw running around today, will
have shoes this winter to keep their little feet warm. Or if the tents I see,
already flapping around in the wind now will be strong enough to protect families
from the heavy rain and wind which are on their way.

 

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One of the things that really strikes you as soon as you enter Za’atari Refugee Camp is the number of children. At least half of the 120,000 Syrian refugees there are children. PHOTO: Simine Alam/ Save the Children

 

I
can’t bear the thought of going to sleep cold, and waking up cold and being
cold day after day after day. But then I don’t live in a tent or an unfinished
building, exposed to bitter wind, rainfall and even snow, and so I know I have
to keep things in perspective this winter. Save the Children is going to great
efforts for ‘winterisation’ this season – that is, ensuring that Syrian
refugees and displaced people in the region are well equipped to deal with the
freezing weather conditions in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. Based on
our experience in distributing items last winter, we have carefully designed a
set of winter items for families, including both children and adults’ clothing,
blankets and rugs. We are also distributing household kits which include
materials for families to improve their shelters. In Syria we are targeting
newly displaced families with our distribution of materials, as these are the
most vulnerable families. It is essential to get these items out as soon as
possible. As every day passes, it’s getting colder and colder.

 

These
are some examples of how a small amount can go a very long way:

  • USD
    11 could buy a pair of shoes to protect someone from the bitter winter
  • USD
    13 provides a warm blanket for a child
  • USD
    14 could buy an insulated jacket to protect someone from the bitter winter 
  • USD
    52 will cover the cost of a school bag and a set of winter clothes to protect a
    child from the cold, including track suits, a winter jacket, gloves, a scarf, a
    winter hat, a pair of shoes and a set of underwear.
  • USD
    100 could buy a set of winter clothes, including jackets, winter hats, socks
    and footwear for a refugee family of 5
  • USD
    160 will provide a ‘quick-fix kit to a family of 4 in Lebanon, enabling them to
    weatherproof their self-built shelters. This includes plastic sheeting,
    transparent sheets, wood and galvanized nails.
  •  USD 250 could buy a winter kit for a family of
    five, including warm winter coats, scarves, hats and warm boots for adults,
    insulation for tents and house floors, plastic sheeting to protect shelter from
    the Winter elements and rope.
  • USD
    300 will cover the cost of running a household of 4 people throughout the
    winter period, including heating, fuel, winter clothes and winter boots for the
    family.

 

Read Save the Children's report Hunger in a War Zone

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* Name has been changed to
protect the identity of the child