Syrian refugees

© Ibrahim Malla/ BRC

A guest post by Penny Sims, British Red Cross senior press officer, who went to Jordan recently to visit Syrian families displaced by the conflict.

It’s that time of year. The nights are drawing in, winter wardrobes are coming out, and soon the Sunday supplements will be full of warming winter stews and the latest scarves and coats.

No-one likes to be caught off-guard by our changeable weather. So imagine how you’d cope if you’d run for your life with only the clothes on your back, and were now contemplating a freezing cold winter.

For many Syrian refugees, this is the reality. Within Syria, thousands of people are living in public buildings or even sleeping in parks, forced to make the choice between warmth, or life. As the conflict enters its second winter, many thousands more are living in tents in border countries. Living under canvas through desperately cold nights is no joke. Hence the Department for International Development’s £1million boost to the Turkish Red Crescent this week, to help it support Syrian refugees through the winter.

Left with nothing

Speaking to Syrian refugees in Jordan, winter was consistently the number one concern: “We haven’t brought any of our winter stuff with us”; ”I only brought clothes for the baby, I couldn’t carry anything else”.

They’re embarrassed. They don’t want people to think they’re unprepared and helpless. At home, just like us, they had blankets and winter clothing. Not bringing that with them wasn’t lack of planning – many people’s homes are now destroyed, winter wardrobes and all.

Beyond the familiar images of tents, there are many thousands more refugees living in rented accommodation. In Jordan, it’s not unusual to find three or four families sharing a one bedroom flat. The constant flood of refugees over the border means housing is now at a premium, and some more unscrupulous landlords are doubling rents, even threatening to raise the rent higher before winter.

One family I met were on the verge of being thrown out of their flat – their landlord had started proceedings against them that very day. Aside from the rent, the biggest spectre hanging over them was the threat of cold weather: “we are not prepared, we only brought summer clothes and have no blankets.”

As the conflict in Syria grinds on, we must not lose sight of the real human cost upon the population. People have lost their family and friends, their homes, jobs, and as an added indignity, are not able to provide basic warmth and comfort to their families.

Donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal

Read Penny’s previous blog on Syrian refugees