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Brutal cold, ice storms and snow worsen conditions for displaced in northern Syria, children freezing to death


Piercing cold, ice storms, and heavy snow have worsened the living conditions of over 80 000 Syrians sleeping in the open air after fleeing a government offensive in the country's northern province of Idlib. Save the Children organization confirmed on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, that at least seven youngsters– including a seven-month-old baby– have died from freezing temperatures in camps.

An aid worker from Hurras Network, a partner of Save the Children, reported that among the fatalities were two sisters, aged four and three, who died when their tent burned down due to unsafe heater. 

In addition, two girls aged ten and three died from suffocation from their heating equipment. Three other children froze to death, who were reportedly aged 14, one, and a seven-month-old baby.

One child from the refugee camp named Mira told the organization her situation, saying, "I did not like the snow in the camp because it was really cold and both my sister and I got sick. Part of our tent collapsed because of the weight of the snow on it.

"I did not have clothes or anything to keep me warm in our tent. I want shoes to play in the snow like my friends."

The UN chief for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock also said Monday that children and women, who are among the majority of the affected, were "traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full."

In some parts of northern Syria, heavy snow and temperatures as low as -11 °C (12.2 °F) even made conditions worse.

Mothers would burn plastic in order to keep their children warm, he added, while others would burn clothes and tires. "Babies and small children are dying because of the cold."

Mayada Qabalan, a mental health worker with the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), said the conditions for displaced families have come to a "breaking point."

"What I've seen with my own eyes is heartbreaking," she said. "Families are sleeping under trees with no cover."

Furthermore, Qabalan noted that humanitarian groups lack resources and manpower to provide help. "Aid organizations don't have the capacity for providing for these newly displaced people and the disastrous situation they face."

"It is as though people are watching and waiting when they could be acting to save millions of civilians that are effectively trapped."

With temporary camps already full, churches and schools also began providing shelter to displaced families.

As the crisis has reached a "horrifying new level", Lowcock has called for international action on the crisis on Monday. "We’ve been calling repeatedly in the Security Council for the protection of the civilian population," he reiterated.

"A huge relief operation, across the border from Turkey, is underway, but it is overwhelmed. The equipment and facilities being used by aid workers are being damaged."

"The biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century will only be avoided if Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first. The only option is a ceasefire."

Syria's neighboring countries Iran, Iraq, and Turkey also suffered bitter cold, deadly blizzards, and heavy snow in the past days.

In Iran, severe snowstorms killed at least eight people and also disrupted power to hundreds of thousands. In Iraq, rare snowfall blanketed capital city Baghdad for the second time in over 100 years. In Turkey, at least 41 died in avalanches as severe cold snap produced record temperatures.

Featured image credit: Save the Children

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  1. And some of these may be the children that the UK Government has refused to take in, even though they have family members in this country already. It’s an absolute disgrace – I am ashamed to be British.

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