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‘Real risk’ of refugees freezing to death in Syria after rains destroy shelters

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Written by Maritime First

…As Man commits suicide in Lagos***

At least 11,000 child refugees and their families are facing a weekend of freezing temperatures with no shelter, after torrential rains across Syria’s Idlib province swept away tents and belongings.

Aid workers warn there is a real risk people will simply freeze to death as temperatures have already dropped to -1C, amid a shortage of blankets and heating fuel.

The shelters of Syrian refugees inside Lebanon have also been battered by high winds, rain and snow this week, according to UNHCR, which says 361 sites have been affected.

Camps in the border town of Arsal have been buried in snow, while settlements in the central and west Bekaa areas, where there has been heavy flooding, have experienced even worse damage. It is forecast that rains will begin again on Sunday.

On Thursday, the UN confirmed an eight-year-old Syrian girl died in Lebanon after slipping and falling into a river during the storm.

In north-west Syria, Save the Children is distributing plastic sheeting to displaced families. Caroline Anning, Syria advocacy and communications manager for the charity, said there were cases of babies freezing to death last year, and added that more people are vulnerable this winter.

“The number of people that moved into Idlib over the last year is huge and there is always the risk there will be more,” said Anning. “We saw, a couple of months ago, there was an escalation of violence in the south and thousands of people fled northwards. It’s a very tense situation.”

Outbreaks of violence between armed groups have delayed emergency relief efforts over recent weeks, she added.

Though fighting has subsided, many areas remain cut off as a result of flash floods, preventing families from accessing health facilities and slowing the distribution of emergency supplies. On Wednesday, a woman in labour was carried out of a camp on the shoulders of six people because it was not possible to access roads, Anning said.

Aid workers are concerned about the spread of disease in overcrowded camps, and have received anecdotal reports of respiratory illnesses.

About half of the 2.9 million people living in Idlib and the surrounding areas are displaced, according to the UN. Children, who make up half of those displaced, have often been forced to move up to seven times and are already in poor health.

Save the Children warned that a demilitarised zone set up by Turkey and Russia along the frontline in Idlib must be fully implemented. “Things are so fragile, any further escalation or displacement would just create a huge humanitarian crisis,” said Anning.

In Lebanon, 70,000 refugees, including almost 40,000 children, are at risk of extreme weather, according to UNHCR. “It has stopped raining and snowing now but it’s still very cold and we are expecting another storm starting this Sunday,” said Lisa Abou Khaled, public information officer for UNHCR in Lebanon. “We are worried that the upcoming storm may cause more damage, especially in informal tented settlements in Bekaa and in the north,” she added.

In the meantime, an unidentified middle-aged man was in the early hours of Saturday found hanging from a tree on Catholic Mission Road, opposite the Court of Appeal in Lagos Island.

The man, clad in Ankara native attire, was found hanging on a rope which looked like a braided long scarf, tied to a fruit tree

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) correspondent who was at the scene of the suspected suicide, reports that the episode drew the attention of a mammoth crowd, who stood in groups chatting and wondering what could have pushed the man to hang himself.

Policemen at the scene of the incident confirmed the happening, but told NAN that they were not allowed to comment on the issue yet until proper investigation was carried out.

They said they would not loosen the noose around the man’s neck or search his pockets for identification purposes until doctors arrived to confirm him officially dead.

Some of the people, who had gathered at the scene, busied themselves taking pictures, but no one could identify the man hanging from the tree.

Mr Ige Adedoja, a resident of the area, who was at the scene of the incident, said that traditional rites needed to be performed before anyone could loosen the noose from the man’s neck.

He said that he met many people at the scene and that no-one but doctors could confirm the actual time of death.

The man was still hanging from the tree as at 9am, when this report was filed. 

Additional report from Guardian UK


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Maritime First