Refugees across the region brace for winter amid rising fuel and food prices

UNHCR launches $250m appeal to support the most vulnerable families during the coldest three months of the year.

In the mountainous north of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, winter temperatures regularly fall below zero. Last year, the area endured the heaviest rain and snow it had seen in more than 40 years, blocking roads, closing schools, and flooding the shelters where tens of thousands of internally displaced and refugee families live.

This winter, with food and fuel prices only rising, the conditions are expected to be even harsher, forcing families to endure months of freezing temperatures in poorly heated homes with limited food rations. For many Syrian refugees in Iraq, it will be their 12th winter away from home, exposed to the elements and more vulnerable than ever.

Elsewhere in the region, millions of other refugees and displaced groups are also struggling. This is particularly the case in Lebanon, where soaring inflation and the loss of employment opportunities are on the rise due to the worsening economic situation there.

Meanwhile, in Jordan, over one third of Syrian refugees living in urban areas have gone into debt to cover their basic living expenses, a more than three-fold increase on 2018, while in Egypt displaced families are reporting a 7.4 percent year-on-year increase in their household bills and fuel costs.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has launched a regional appeal to raise $250m to provide additional support to 3.4 million of the most vulnerable refugees and IDPs (internally displaced people) from Syria and Iraq who are living across Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.

“This coming winter will be far more challenging than in recent years," a spokesperson warned. “Many displaced families will have no option but to choose between food and warmth as they struggle to heat their shelters, source warm clothing, and cook hot meals.”

The money raised by UNHCR will be used in three ways: cash assistance for families to meet additional needs over the winter months; the provision of winter clothing, blankets, and sleeping bags; and materials to improve drainage in informal settlements and help refugees to weather-proof their shelters.

In October this year, the number of people around the world forcibly displaced from their homes passed 103 million – equivalent to 1 percent of the population, and the highest rate since records began.

The reasons for this mass displacement are primarily conflict (new and protracted), persecution and human rights violations, and climate change-related weather events (such as floods and drought), but the after-effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has also compounded the situation.

Recent flooding in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as well as the conflict in Ukraine, the drought in the Horn of Africa, and ongoing crises in places such as Yemen, Afghanistan, and Venezuela, are stretching aid budgets to the limit amid soaring supply chain costs.

Donations to the UNHCR 90 Nights of Cold appeal are being accepted online via Apple Pay, PayPal, credit cards, and other platforms or bank transfer. - PA