Winter Survival Fund

Winter Survival Fund

Refugees are already some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many have suffered violence, loss and hunger, but now as winter looms in the Middle East and North Africa, displaced families face significant risks to their health and wellbeing.
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This year, Syrian and Afghan families are particularly vulnerable and face a dangerous combination of conflict, extreme climate events and COVID-19. They have already suffered from war, but now they have to contend with the pandemic and worsening climate crisis, which is contributing to harsher winters.

There are over 10 million Syrian and Iraqi internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. UNHCR estimates that 3.3 million people are in need of critical assistance to help them prepare for and cope during the forthcoming winter. This will be the 11th consecutive winter in displacement for some, and many continue to face increased hardships due to the economic situation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Afghanistan, even prior to the events that unfolded in recent months, more than 18 million Afghans required urgent humanitarian assistance. Over 3.5 million have been displaced from their homes by conflict and remain inside the country, including some 665,000 this year.

 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

Every year at this time, UNHCR launches a massive relief operation to help these vulnerable families prepare for the cold. The Winter Survival Fund helps thousands of refugees receive shelter insulation kits, cash assistance, heaters, warm blankets and other essential winter supplies to help them through the cold winter months.

With so many families vulnerable and living in the open, protection is urgently needed now, ahead of winter, before they face life-threatening consequences.

Help vulnerable people who have been forced to flee their homes into brutal winter conditions.


Temperatures can drop well below freezing, with up to a metre of snow falling in some areas. For thousands of displaced families, living in makeshift shelters and separated from the elements by only a few millimetres of canvas or plastic sheeting, there is no time to lose. The young and elderly are at particularly high risk without immediate and additional support.

© UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

1. Winter will leave many refugees vulnerable this year

Many refugees live in rented or shared accommodation, which are poorly insulated or maintained. Rents are often high, and not being able to make the payments, often makes them vulnerable to landlords. 
 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

2. Savings, for those that had them, have run out

The crisis in Syria has been ongoing for over 10 years. Many refugees faced financial hardship for years before leaving their country. Now, without the ability to work.
 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

3.  Temperatures in the Middle East can drop dramatically low

Although it may be hard to imagine in a desert, much of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq can get very cold. At night, temperatures can plummet below zero, leaving many refugees at risk. Together with powerful winds, some areas are also hit by snow and torrential rainfall, leading to floods.
 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

4. Poverty makes the winter more extreme

In Lebanon, close to 1 million Syrians live below the poverty line, many on less than US$2.90 per person per day – making it nearly impossible to cover food, health and shelter. 
 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

5. This year, COVID-19 had made the need even greater

When the pandemic arrived and restrictions were put in place to contain its spread – it has threatened jobs and pushed households deeper into poverty. At the same time, conflict and insecurity continue in areas like northwest Syria, forcing more people out of their homes and into the cold.

UNHCR’s winterization strategy focuses on three broad areas of intervention:

© UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

1. Winterization of shelter including shelter weather-proofing and repairs, improvements to drainage systems and other infrastructure in camps and informal settlements.

 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

2. Provision of core relief items specific to winter such as high thermal blankets, plastic sheets, sleeping bags and winter clothes.

 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

3. Provision of seasonal cash assistance for vulnerable families to meet their additional needs during the winter months.

* The provision of seasonal cash assistance does not overlap with the provision of core relief items and shelter assistance for winter. 


Tent insulation kits

Insulation is critical to keeping makeshift shelters at a safe temperature in subzero conditions. Tent insulation kits include:
– 1 x heat resistant funnel for chimney pipes, protecting the tent
– 4 x cement floor protection boards, heat resistant 25 x 50 cm
– 5 x insulating floor 90 x 180 cm mat (aluminized fabric and medium thermal fleece blanket)
– 1 x inner liner for family tent
– 1 x inner partition for family tent
– 1 x carry bag with strong handles

HKD 1,163 can provide a tent insulation kit to 1 displaced families in Afghanistan, thus help prevent heat loss and help survival through periods of cold.

 © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

Blanket Packages

In cold climates, with temperatures below freezing, people can die within a day without adequate protection from the elements. For those most at risk, survival is often dependent on prioritizing the distribution of blankets, thus allowing them to stay warm.

HKD 2,560 can provide blankets to 10 families affected by the displacement crisis in Afghanistan.

 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

Emergency Shelter Kit

For refugee families who have been forced to flee their homes, lack of access to safe and warm shelter is a genuine risk, as many are forced to live in shelters not equipped to be waterproof or weatherproof.

HKD 3,332 is enough to provide an emergency shelter kit (including a family tent and 2 plastic tarpaulins) to a displaced family in Afghanistan, thus preserving their dignity and strengthening their safety.

 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

Cash for fuel/clothing

Economic challenges exacerbated in winter disproportionately affect vulnerable displaced people by limiting access to services, warm clothes, and appropriate footwear. The majority of affected persons, whose shelters do not protect against the cold do not have the financial means to purchase fuel and heaters to supplement their heating requirements.

HKD 4,340 is enough to provide cash assistance to 2 displaced families and help them to procure much needed fuel for heating and winter clothes to keep them warm during harsh winter months.

 © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

Household solar panels

At subzero temperature, warm food is more important than ever to regain strength.

HKD 5,112 could provide 3 refugee families food assistance by one-off cash assistance for 3 months


Last year in Syria, UNHCR supplied almost 2.5 million winter items – including warm blankets, plastic sheets, winter jackets, sleeping bags and winter clothing. Here, refugees share what is needed most. 

“It’s not warm enough in here. I make the stove drip slowly so that the diesel doesn’t run out quickly. Sometimes we get warm, then it gets cold. Sometimes we turn off the heater and other times, we cover up with blankets.” – Shakiba, Jordan

“I cry about my children, about my country, about my home that vanished, about my belongings.” – Um Bassam, Jordan

“When it starts raining, I worry. Where would I go? I have no relatives, no one but kind neighbours. I deal with this flooded water alone, what am I going to do? And the night is dark and cold.” – Koneh