Jordan and large parts of the Middle East witnessed a cold spell over the past week that experts deemed to be the coldest winter in 120 years. Many parts of the country were covered in snow, where other parts underwent continuous heavy rain. Some households were without electricity or heating for 2 to 3 days and the difficult road conditions caused a complete shutdown of the country for 4 consecutive days.
As we watched the snow from the window sitting in our warm living rooms, many Syrian refugees were struggling to survive the harsh weather conditions. A number of Syrian refugees are living in informal settlements around Jordan. They work on farmlands and move according the season; sheltered by tents, they had little protection from the frost and cold. The rain drowned many of the tents, and the muddy nature of the area caused pits to form which required rescue efforts from the civil police department. Madeleine Abu Amrieh, Oxfam Public Health Officer, visited some of the families and recounted the conditions that these families have to live in, “It’s very slippery and muddy, the children can’t leave their tents, and families have to all huddle together in one tent to stay warm.” With no access to electricity or gas heaters, families are resorting to burning anything from wood to old shoes and clothes, creating heavy black smoke that is damaging to inhale.
In Za’atri Camp, people scrambled to protect their tents and caravans with plastic sheeting to prevent the rain from seeping in. Those in caravans were mostly spared, and trenches were dug around tents to direct the water away. Despite those efforts, many tents were flooded by rain water, drowning the refugees’ few possessions and only shelter. ARDD-Legal Aid spoke to Um Aghyad, a mother of 2, and an assistant teacher in one of the schools, and she described the situation as very difficult, especially for young children with not enough blankets or heating. She and a few other teachers patrolled the camp, collecting extra blankets and used clothes, and distributed them to those who needed them the most.
Hasan, 25, living in Mafraq, decided to leave that area as soon as the storm started. He stayed with his brothers in the governorate of Irbid with his wife and two young children. “There wasn’t much snow there, but it was very cold”, he told us, “The children went outside to play with the snow, but we couldn’t let them stay outside for long as the temperatures were very low.”
Many refugees living in host communities braved the cold with very little to keep them warm. Najah, living in Zarqa and a mother of 6, complained of very little assistance to Syrian refugees living in her neighborhood. “There are no distributions of blankets or heaters, none at all”, she said. She continued by saying, “I don’t want anything for myself, but I’m willing to help anyone who needs assistance.”
ARDD-Legal Aid asked some other Syrian refugees about their reactions to the snow, Bashar, previously a lawyer in Syria, said “At first we welcomed the snow with joy, but that turned into worry. We started thinking, what will we do if the gas ran out, or if we need a doctor? We don’t have cars, or money, and we don’t know any of our neighbors.” Another refugee said, “Maybe the snow is a message from God to the Middle East; so we stop focusing on political problems and start thinking about the real problems. It could be God’s message of peace, and for us to stop the fighting, it could also be a warning of what is to come.”
The Voice team will be going out to Za’atri Camp tomorrow to hear from people about how they coped with the cold. Many still fear the upcoming winter months, as the worst might not be over yet.