Stranded Syrian refugees braced for ‘killer’ storm

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A Syrian refugee hangs clothes to dry at a flooded refugee camp in the town of Bar Elias, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. (AP)
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Syrian refugees use a floating piece of wood to move around after heavy rain caused flooding at a refugee camp. (AP)
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Syrian refugees stand in a pool of mud and rain water at a refugee camp, in the town of Bar Elias. (AP)
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Syrian refugee's tents are reflected in a pool of rain water at a refugee camp in the town of Bar Elias, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. (AP)
Updated 10 January 2019

Stranded Syrian refugees braced for ‘killer’ storm

  • Agency launches emergency aid operation

BEIRUT: Emergency relief operations are underway in Lebanon in a desperate bid to prevent thousands of Syrian refugees freezing to death as another icy storm heads their way.
Aid workers fear that a blizzard, forecast to sweep across the country, poses a serious threat to the lives of up to 70,000 refugees living in makeshift camps.
Gihan El-Kaissi, executive director of the Union of Relief and Development Associations (URDA), told Arab News: “The majority of Syrian refugee camps are in the coldest parts of Lebanon. Even if every refugee could shelter under 10 blankets, they would still freeze to death without fuel oil for heating.” 
Snow storms that battered Lebanon last week destroyed plastic tents, leaving 11,000 refugees with no shelter and many enduring temperatures as low as minus 10. In Miniyeh, in northern Lebanon, a 10-year-old girl died after being washed away in floods. 
Around 850 refugee camps have been set up throughout Lebanon, housing an estimated 40,000 children.
El-Kaissi said: “We have emergency plans in place to distribute fuel oil, blankets and mattresses as a priority. We are also working hard to mend damaged tents and have begun sending out awnings to be placed over them.” She added that many children had nothing to wear on their feet and hundreds of pairs of shoes were being dispatched to camps.
In the Lebanese border town of Arsal, male refugees were reported to be working around the clock to clear snow off tents and erect wooden supports to prevent the flimsy structures from collapsing.
Abu Mohammed, a Syrian refugee from Qusayr, said most people who had fled from his town wished to return to Syria, but he said they were being prevented by the Syrian authorities.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Lebanon, Mireille Girard, told Arab News that a lack of official refugee camps in Lebanon was adding to the crisis.
She said 20 percent of refugees in Lebanon were living in camps set up in areas vulnerable to flooding, while many others lived in part-built houses, basements and garages. Hundreds of families had been forced to move into makeshift camps because they could not afford to rent apartments, Girard said. 
She added that UNHCR officials were in constant discussions with the Lebanese authorities over the plight of Syrian refugees. “They (the refugees) are not waiting for a plan to reconstruct Syria. They want to return to their country and their homes,” she said. 
The agency now has eight offices in Syria to help support families returning there.

Jordan to host Yemen talks on prisoner exchange

Updated 51 min 6 sec ago

Jordan to host Yemen talks on prisoner exchange

  • A follow-up committee will discuss implementing the deal agreed in UN-brokered peace talks last month in Sweden

AMMAN: The next stage of the fragile Yemen peace process will take place in Jordan.

The government in Amman agreed on Tuesday to a UN request to host a meeting between the Yemeni government and Iran-backed Houthi militias to discuss a prisoner swap deal that would allow thousands of families to be reunited.

A follow-up committee will discuss implementing the deal agreed in UN-brokered peace talks last month in Sweden. 

The agreement to free prisoners simultaneously was part of confidence-building measures that included a plan to withdraw from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

The two sides exchanged lists of about 15,000 prisoners for a swap agreed at the start of the Sweden talks and delegates said it would be conducted via the Houthi-held Sanaa airport in north Yemen and the government-held Sayun airport in the south.

The process would be overseen by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The operation will require the Saudi-led military coalition to guarantee that air space is secure for flights, the ICRC said.

The warring parties in Yemen have so far refused to talk face-to-face during two meetings to discuss the redeployment of forces from Hodeidah, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, the head of the monitoring team, had to shuttle between government and Houthi representatives in different rooms.

Dujarric said Cammaert was trying to find “a mutually acceptable way forward” to redeploy forces from Hodeidah and the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Isa.

“Recent discussions have been constructive” and Cammaert “continues to encourage the parties to resume the joint meetings in order to finalize a mutually agreed redeployment plan,” Dujarric said.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths said last week there would be a new round of talks in January but diplomats said he was now looking to February.