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Christmas in the cold

Millions of children are facing a Christmas in the cold
Millions of children are facing a Christmas in the cold

As winter sets in across the Middle East and Europe, the situation for millions of refugees is looking increasingly bleak. Plummeting temperatures and snow in Syria has increased the already considerable suffering of the 7.6 million internally displaced people. The situation is equally depressing in Lebanon and neighbouring Jordan.

The 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon are facing sub-zero temperatures. More than half of them live in shack-like shelters, the other half in poor quality tents. The money to rent proper apartments and houses is simply not there – most Syrian refugees are not allowed to work in Lebanon. Last year, snow covered the refugee camps and several people, including children, died from exposure.

For the some 820,000 refugees – including 164,000 children - who made the perilous journey to Europe this summer, the outlook is not much better. The Balkan countries have notoriously harsh winters characterised by heavy snowfall, lashing rain and freezing cold. The majority of refugees are ill-equipped for such conditions, often lacking even a warm coat and water-tight shoes.

What are SOS Children doing to help?

The challenge to equip these refugees with appropriate clothing and shelter is a huge one. Here at SOS Children we have been distributing backpacks filled with cold-weather essentials, including warm clothing to refugees passing through Croatia.

In Serbia and Macedonia we have been supplying warm bedding, blankets and tents to families and over 4,250 people have received items including socks, hygiene packs and food.

Across the Balkans we have been providing specialist care and support to the most at-risk groups – including pregnant women, children under five and young people. As we receive more funding we are looking to expand our reach.

We have been working with refugees in Lebanon since March 2014. Our interim care centre in Khonshara is currently the only safe temporary shelter in the country for Syrian refugee children exposed to neglect, abuse or exploitation. Over 200 children have been looked after at the centre where they have been able to continue their education and access psychological support and medical care. A further 250 children from the surrounding area use the centre on a daily-basis.

Young Syrian refugee girl
Rasha is now taken care of in the safe environment of our emergency centre in the Lebanese mountains.

Rasha's story

Rasha is one of the children looked after by SOS Children at the interim care centre. She was found in the ruins of her house in the Syrian city of Aleppo a few days after a bomb destroyed it.Her father and brother were killed and her mother so badly injured she was no longer able to look after Rasha.

What Rasha suffered is un-imaginable, but she is now re-building her life in the mountains in Khonshara, supported by specially trained psychologists and trauma experts.

As winter progresses, the struggle to survive becomes even harder. Help children like Rasha who have no-one and give the gift of child sponsorship this Christmas.