A Matter of Life and Death

Saving Syrian refugees from a brutal winter

November 9, 2016

© UNHCR / Haidar Darwish

Imagine surviving winter in a drafty tent. You watch your children shiver as they sleep with only a thin mat between them and the ice-cold ground. Suffering in below-freezing temperatures without even a heater to warm your hands.

This is reality for the nearly five million Syrian refugees throughout the Middle East. Millions more families are displaced from their homes and still inside Syria. They are lucky to escape the barrel bombs, sniper fire and shelling, but there’s no escaping winter.

“Home” for many of these refugees are settlements at higher elevations like the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, which has been hit by extreme weather over the past few years. Even refugees living in cities are vulnerable. With little money for rent, they can only afford substandard housing. Others live in abandoned or unfinished buildings. Some are barely surviving on the streets.


But these vulnerable refugees are not alone. Thanks to USA for UNHCR donor support, the UN Refugee Agency will get them through what will likely be another very long and cold winter.

Through their generosity, USA for UNHCR donors tell refugee families, I will not stand by while you suffer. I will stand with you.

UNHCR is gearing up to deploy critical support to the most vulnerable in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt — children, the elderly, fatherless households and the sick and disabled. For months, the winter relief network has been preparing by:

  • Identifying areas where the most vulnerable refugees live.
  • Stockpiling warm blankets, clothes, weather-proofing materials, heaters and other relief items.
  • Setting up systems to disperse the cash assistance refugees need to buy heating fuel.
  • Developing a contingency plan for extreme weather, which can put emergency teams on the ground within 72 hours.


The aftermath of a winter storm can be as dangerous as the storm itself. When the soil does not absorb rain and melting snow, muddy brown streams of contaminated water can inundate flimsy dwellings. As a result, many are exposed to cholera and other potentially deadly infections. UNHCR is working to improve drainage systems where refugees live, in order to prevent flooding and protect refugees from water borne illnesses.

With winter just around the corner, refugee lives are at stake, but with generous donor support, we can keep warm vulnerable children, women and men— and give them hope for a safer, more peaceful future.

Here’s how you can help …

By becoming a USA for UNHCR monthly donor, you can keep refugees from Syria and around the world warm and safe this winter. Help provide lifesaving support every day of the year in every corner of the world. Make your first monthly gift today.