United Nations says ready for Syrian winter

United Nations says ready for Syrian winter

GENEVA - Agence France-Presse
United Nations says ready for Syrian winter

A Syrian boy who helps his father to sell birds at a street stall in Aleppo. EPA photo

The U.N. refugee agency said it was ready for the Syrian winter but the real problem was helping victims of the fighting within Syria itself.

“We are at a very great state of preparedness ... we can take this hugely seriously,” said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR).

Although the conflict began in March last year, far fewer people needed help over the first winter than is the case now, Fleming told reporters in Geneva. By the end of the year the UNHCR expects there to be up to 700,000 refugees, Fleming said.

“The figures have shot up after the first winter, the real crisis began in the spring ... internal displacement has got dramatically worse over the last six months,” she added.

The majority of refugees now coming forward for help had fled at the start of the conflict and had exhausted their cash reserves, Fleming explained. In addition, 2,000-3,000 refugees continue to flee across Syria’s borders every day, reinforcing the need to refurbish shelters and make refugees’ tents as comfortable as possible, the UNHCR spokeswoman added.

“It’s awful to be a refugee, it’s awful to live in a tent when it’s cold outside,” she said. “We have to make these tents as comfortable as possible.” As part of its $64 million winter contingency plan for Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, the UNHCR is to distribute blankets, clothing, prefabricated housing and cash to refugees. The problems are at their worst in Syria itself, Fleming added, where around 1.2 million people are displaced, sometimes more than once.

The agency aims to target 500,000 Syrians inside the country in the next three months as part of its $32.4 million “Keeping Families Warm” initiative, Fleming said.

But it has struggled to extend its help beyond urban areas because of the “terrible violence” that marks the 19-month-old conflict.