Photos: Winter through the eyes of Syrian refugee children

Jordan, Syria

February 24, 2015

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  • Winter storms have brought freezing rain, flooded camps and bitter cold snow across the Middle East, where millions of Syrian refugee children like Noor and Khalid do not have enough heat or warm clothing to stay safe. All photos: Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corps

This winter has been brutal for Syrian refugees across the Middle East. Families who have now endured years away from their war-torn home still do not have the safe shelter or warm clothes needed to withstand freezing weather.

Just a few days ago, a third major snowstorm of the season swept through parts of Jordan and Lebanon with record-high winds. I visited Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp the day before the storm hit to see how children and their families are coping.

That day, the high temperature barely broke 40 degrees Fahrenheit as the cold front moved in; freezing rain turned to snow overnight. Families here live in canvas tents or leaky metal “caravans” (essentially one-room trailers) with little or no heat. The camp’s generators provide only an hour or two of electricity, and not everyone has a gas heater.

Mercy Corps’ children’s center and playground offer a safe, warm place for families to escape the frigid weather. The children I met told me about their experiences and what they wish for to get through through this soggy, bitter winter.

Omer, 7

Loves: Drawing, playing and making houses from paper.

“Winter is not nice here. We step in mud and water. Snow is the worst part. It would be better if we had electricity. Gas for heaters. Clothes for the boys and girls so that they don’t get cold.”

Lulu, 5

Loves: The swings, slides, drawing and cinema — Sponge Bob and Tom and Jerry.

“I don’t like the cold and mud. I only like snow. Yesterday my brothers and I were throwing snowballs at each other.”

Samar, 10

Loves: Studying Arabic, drawing, playing soccer, painting nature, trees and houses.

“We drown in water, and the caravan leaks. It’s much different than in Syria. All the rain gathers in puddles throughout our area. When my brother and I go out we get wet. My brother changes 15 times a day because he always gets wet. Electricity would make the camp better. Power goes off a lot during winter.”

Hala, 4 months, and her sister Mais, 5

Her mother Ola: “Hala coughs a lot. The doctor said that she has a chest cold. We don’t have a heater — we borrowed this one, because the baby is sick. We lived in a tent for two years. They only gave us the caravan after I gave birth.”

Hadeel, 11

Loves: Studying Arabic and math, swings and slides, drawing and making accessories like rings and bracelets.

“The cold, rain and mud are the worst. The power isn’t good in winter — we only get about one hour a day of electricity. And tents collapse because of wind and the mud in the streets. Putting pebbles on the ground would improve it and make it less muddy.”

Khalil, 9

Loves: Playing marbles, swinging, drawing.

“It sucks. It’s so cold, it’s freezing! The mud is bad, and there’s no electricity. It’s better if it stops raining, and the sun comes out! I wish I had clothes and a heater.”

Noor, 11

Loves: Drawing, playing and making houses, gardens and flowers from paper and sticks.

“We drowned in the tent, water came in from everywhere. But now the caravan leaks too. It’s cold. I wish I had more clothing. Electricity would make things better.”

Ahmed, 9

Loves: Cinema — Sponge Bob, Tom and Jerry, Papa Smurf — and drawing houses and flowers.

“Winter is not good. It’s dirty and muddy. In the tent, we drowned and it was snowing.”

Hazem, 13

Loves: Playing soccer.

“It’s rainy and there is mud all over the streets. That’s the worst. Heaters and gas would help. The most important thing is for the electricity to run. We never have power, especially in winter. I think electricity is the most important thing in winter.”

Hala, 12

Loves: Cinema and drawing.

“Winter is not very comfortable in the camp. It’s really cold in a tent. A lot of kids need so many things. Like clothing and heaters. I wish for people to have heaters, because a lot of people don’t have heaters.”

Abdu Jabar, 12

Loves: Playing soccer and tag, drawing, learning from the instructors.

“Winter is not good in the camp. There’s sickness. Old people die from the cold, and newborns can’t bear the cold and die, too. I only wish for people to stay safe.”

How you can help

We are repairing shelters and distributing heaters and warm clothing to refugee families in Jordan and Lebanon. Your gift today will help us deliver more lifesaving warmth this winter. Give now ▸