Syrian refugees in Jordan battle winter storms

Syrian refugees in Jordan battle winter storms

Thousands of Syrian refugees in northern Jordan have appealed for help after three days of winter storms left them battling mud, water and plummeting temperatures.

“The situation has become absolutely miserable after three days of heavy rain,” Yusef Hariri, 38, told AFP at the Zaatari refugee camp near the country’s border with Syria.

The father of four stood with his family in the mud and the freezing cold near their tent, which was ripped apart by wind and water.

“My sister’s tent was also damaged. She and her five children have joined us in looking for a new tent. Not even animals live this way,” he said in frustration, his clothes soaked by the rain.

The seven-square-kilometre (2.8-square-mile) Zaatari camp, home to more than 62,000 Syrian refugees, was almost entirely swamped.

Some refugees dug shallow trenches around their tents in a vain attempt to keep the water out.

Mohammad Hamed, 30, and his wife worked to move some of their belongings to his brother’s tent.

“My tent has been destroyed. I tried to fix it but it did not work. We don’t know what to do,” said Hamed who fled the conflict in Syria a month ago.

“We need help. Urgent help. If this situation continues, our children will die.”

Torrential downpours swept through desert Jordan for a third straight day on Wednesday, sparking widespread flooding and chaos as a wave of abnormal storms blasted the Middle East.

“We are told to be patient. How can children be patient? They need blankets to feel warm. Nobody feels for us. We should have stayed in Syria,” said Hariri, who fled the flashpoint Daraa area in the south four months ago.

The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that two days of bad weather and heavy rain had destroyed 500 out of Zaatari’s 4,500 tents.

It added that it was working with the government to move the refugees into some of the 4,000 caravans already at Zaatari.

“Each one of us is given two light blankets. What should we do with them? The strong wind nearly tore down our tent,” said Sabha angrily of wind speeds of 100 kilometres (60 mph) per hour recorded during the storms.

“Any official we complain to says ‘it’s none of my business.’ This is too much to take. Where should we go?” asked the 60-year-old woman.

Jordan says it is hosting more than 290,000 Syrians, and hundreds more cross the border daily into the kingdom, fleeing the fighting between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels.

More than 21 months of violence in Syria have killed at least 60,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The UN has predicted the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries will double to 1.1 million by June if the civil war does not end by then.

Zaatari residents have staged several protests against poor living conditions since the camp opened in July.

Hussein Hurani, 42, laid stones under his tent to raise it above water level.

“We are sinking. We cannot sleep or eat and we cannot do anything. I’m afraid the situation will get worse,” he said.

His wife was more forceful.

“We’ve been let down. All the Arabs have let us down and thrown us in this desert. We are shocked and sad,” she said.

Nearby, Abdelmajid Mohammad, 35, trudged through the mud, his head covered with a blanket.

“I’m afraid one of my sons will die from this cold weather. I feel guilty all the time for leaving Syria and coming here, where we face humiliation 24 hours a day,” said the father of four.

“At least in Syria we die at home and quickly. Here death is very slow. Look around you… as if tents are floating in the sea.”

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