The holidays are meant to be a time of celebration with family.
Yet not all is well in the world, particularly in the Syrian city of Aleppo, where brutal ongoing conflict between government and rebel forces has forced thousands of families to flee.
For many who’ve made their way to humanitarian camps, the winter cold is proving quite the challenge for aid workers helping refugees find shelter. So Australia for UNHCR, which helps to fundraise for the refugee agency, is currently raising money for this effort with its Nobody Left Outside campaign .
“Icy conditions are a major challenge now; we recently had the first snowfalls,” Firas Al-Khateeb a Syrian field worker with UNHCR, told Mashable via email.
“Thousands of Syrian families have been fleeing, so the quickest way to provide shelter in such a short timeframe is adapting vacant, often damaged buildings such as hangars and abandoned factories. Sometimes tents are temporarily erected inside the buildings.”
The humanitarian agency is currently issuing winter kits to refugees arriving at its camps that include insulation materials, thermal blankets and stoves, and winter clothing.
“We register everyone arriving at temporary shelters and prioritize the most vulnerable. This includes closely monitoring children in case any are unaccompanied — they can get separated from their family in the panic to flee.
“We also prioritize aid and protection services for other vulnerable people such as those who are unwell, or the elderly,” Al-Khateeb said.
Many of these families have had to leave everything behind. And counselors are on hand to help those who’ve been traumatized by what they’ve seen. While living in these camps can be difficult, to say the least, it’s still arguably safer than Aleppo, where many civilians still remain.
“Life is extremely dangerous and difficult for civilians still in Aleppo. Those who have fled say there is little food or water, no power or fuel to keep warm, and many buildings have been destroyed,” Al-Khateeb added.
According to UNHCR data, 4.8 million Syrians have been displaced in nearby countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. And 866,831 people have applied for asylum in Europe in the past five years, with more than a quarter of those applications filed in 2016.
Comparatively, 53,905 Syrians were submitted for resettlement in 2015. The U.S. reached its goal of accepting its 10,000th Syrian refugee in August.
Shelter doesn’t just mean protection from the elements. It’s also essential that these spaces provide a fleeing family with privacy and a place to call home. That comes in to play in the design of the structures.
“The majority of refugees are women and children, so protection, security and dignity is also a core element of the shelter we provide,” UNHCR shelter specialist Tom Corcoran told Mashable via email.
“Tents are crucial for the initial emergency and mass arrivals but only last about six to 12 months, and cost around [ US$500] each. When you consider that most refugees are spending on average 20 years in a refugee camp then we also invest in better, more durable shelter solutions,” Corcoran said.
Despite the hardship and loss, many refugees are trying to continue with their lives and protect their families as best they can.
“We’ve noticed that many families are keen to register their children at school even from the first few days they arrive at the shelters,” Al-Khateeb said.
Australians can help provide shelter and care to refugees these holidays by supporting the UNHCR effort .
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