Displaced Syrians Expected To Struggle With Winter Ahead

On December 2nd, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council that over three million displaced Syrians will be “particularly vulnerable” in what is increasingly looking like it will be a tough winter. Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said this year’s snow and cold are “proving to be incredibly hard for those without adequate shelter … [or] basics like fuel for heating, blankets, warm clothes and shoes.” 6.7 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes to other places in the country. These refugees are forced to seek shelter in unsuitable places like damaged buildings and tents, which will provide insufficient protection as the months get colder. About one third of those 6.7 million are estimated to be at large risk for death.

Rajasingham estimates that 9.3 million Syrians are heading into the winter “food insecure,” meaning that they will be unable to feed themselves or their families. As economic conditions worsen in Syria, devaluing the Syrian pound and causing further poverty for those already in need, this statistic is likely to become increasingly worrying.

Increasing violence is also a concern. As desperation rises, areas that had previously remained unscathed will see greater conflict, which makes it even more difficult for Syrian health workers and international volunteers to care for people’s wellbeing and safety. Six humanitarian workers in poverty-stricken areas have already been killed in the last two months.

“The risks our humanitarian colleagues are taking every day are simply unacceptable,” Rajasingham said. “Humanitarian workers must be able to deliver assistance without fear of attack.”

Those affected by violence have little ability to treat their injuries, and health workers lack access to areas which desperately need the help they can provide. This is problematic in the context of an international pandemic. “Let me be clear,” Rajasingham said. “Health services are extremely weak across the country and are being stretched to new extremes under the public health impact of COVID-19… [The] gaps in assistance and shortages of medical supplies and personnel are prevalent everywhere.”

Although COVID-19 conditions have made it increasingly challenging to meet Syria’s dire needs, the U.N. is still seeking moderate progress towards a better future for the country. The Constitutional Committee is working hard to map out a path to progress for Syria’s citizens. For Syria to reach that bright future, however, we must give its people the assistance they need to make it through the winter.

Sophia Seemann