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UNHCR: Millions of Refugees in Middle East at Risk as Winter Nears

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Syrian kids play outside their tents in the Kawergosk refugee camp in northern Iraq, April 8, 2017.

The U.N. refugee agency warns that millions of refugees in the Middle East are at great risk as winter approaches.

Nearly 15 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people are scattered across Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, the U.N. says, with about four million needing help to prepare for the freezing temperatures, snow and heavy rains. However, only one in four are likely to get the support they require.

The UNHCR has received one-quarter of the $245 million needed to help these vulnerable people, many of whom are still living in tents or makeshift shelters.

FILE - Families walk by tents in a camps for displaced persons in Ain Issa, Syria, Aug. 17, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
FILE - Families walk by tents in a camps for displaced persons in Ain Issa, Syria, Aug. 17, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says many refugee families will be forced to resort to desperate measures to survive, with women and children being the most vulnerable and at highest risk for exploitation.

"You can easily imagine what people are willing to resort to," Mahecic said. "We are talking here about the possibility of child labor. We are talking about the possibility of resorting to survival sex, to the basically negative coping mechanisms in order to provide for themselves and for their families. We could talk about the risk of early marriages, et cetera, et cetera."

The UNHCR says it plans to provide cash assistance to refugees and displaced people throughout the months leading up to winter. It also is distributing winter items, insulating and repairing shelters, and improving drainage in the camps.

Winter assistance packages differ somewhat in the six countries of asylum, but more than half of this support will consist of cash. This will allow the refugees and internally displaced to spend the money where it will do the most good, according to the UNHCR.

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