Winter storms bring more hardship to refugees in Jordan's Za'atari camp

Dozens of families in Jordan's largest camp remained camped in emergency shelters after their tents collapsed under the weight of snow.

Syrian refugees rest in an emergency shelter after their tents collapsed when heavy snows lashed Za'atari refugee camp in northern Jordan. Hundreds of refugee families were effected by the winter storm and had to sue emergency centres.  © UNHCR/B.Szandelszky

ZA'ATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan, January 9 (UNHCR) - Extreme weather has wreaked havoc for Syrian refugees living in Jordan's Za'atari camp over the past few days, flooding homes, collapsing tents and forcing hundreds to wait out the storms in emergency shelters or with neighbours and relatives.

Winter storms have swept across Jordan and Lebanon in the past week, bringing heavy snow and rainfall, high winds and freezing temperatures to tens of thousands of refugees living in camps and makeshift shelters across the region.

In Za'atari - Jordan's largest refugee camp with nearly 85,000 Syrians - dozens of families remained camped in emergency shelters on Friday after their tents collapsed under the weight of snow, which began falling two days earlier.

Fatima, 20, and her husband Mohammed were trying to protect their three small children from the cold when the roof of their tent fell in on them two nights ago. "We had a small stove burning in the tent to keep warm, and it fell onto my son and burned his back," she told visitors from UNHCR to the shelter where she and her children are staying with seven other families.

"It was pure panic, we were all very scared. We ran out of the tent and were told to come here," she said. She took one-year-old Bara'a to a hospital inside the camp where his burns were treated.

While most refugees whose tents were damaged in the storms have been taken in by relatives and friends, UNHCR established several shelters in advance of the storms for those with nowhere else to go. The shelters are equipped with heaters, mattresses and blankets, and food and water are also provided.

As well as causing damage to shelters, the severe weather has brought further disruption to life in the camp. Heavy rain and melting snow have caused flooding in many areas, damaging belongings and turning streets into quagmires of water and freezing mud. Electricity supplies to several parts of the camp have also been cut.

"This storm has had a big impact on refugees here, and it's making their daily lives even harder," said UNHCR's Nasreddine Touaibia. "Being in a camp is already not a comfortable situation, so if you add to it this extreme weather - strong winds, rain and snow - the situation now is pretty bad."

With continued poor weather forecast until at least Saturday, displaced families will remain in the emergency shelters until the storm has passed, Touaibia said. Once conditions improve, UNHCR teams will be sent out to assess the damage to individual shelters and carry out repairs or provide replacement equipment.

Back inside the emergency shelter, Fatima's mother Houria, whose tent also collapsed, reflects on the damage done by the storm. "All our belongings are wet in our tent, we couldn't even save our blankets. If we give our children a bath, we don't even have a change of clothes to put them in."

By Charlie Dunmore in Za'atari Refugee Camp, Jordan