'It's only fit for rats': Syrian refugees on brink of disaster

UN warns of a 'staggering humanitarian disaster' as families flee civil war

Minieh

The tattered rug of the floor of Radwan Salim’s tent is still damp after icy water swept through his tent last week. He sought refuge under a shop veranda with his wife and the 16 other members of his extended family living in the plastic-covered construction that he now reluctantly calls home.

“The rats came here try to get out of the rain, it’s only fit for rats,” says the 46-year-old, who fled from the Syrian city of Hama three months ago.  

This bleak camp in Minieh, just north of Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli, is home to around 150 people. Not far from the motorway, the ramshackle enclave of tents is just one of numerous makeshift encampments that have sprung up as the country struggles to host the influx of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war. The ground has turned to mud and the air is filled with acrid smoke as families burn anything they can find to stay warm.

The US-based aid agency International Rescue Committee (IRC) today warned of a “staggering humanitarian disaster” in the making. Millions remain in dire need of assistance within Syria and thousands continue to stream over the borders. The organisation urged governments to meet the UN appeal for $1.5bn in aid. 

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, today gave a bleak assessment of the crisis, telling the BBC that it is an “almost impossible” challenge with “no solution in sight” to the disaster.  

More than 600,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries. In Lebanon, the UN says nearly 200,000 people have been documented or are awaiting registration but local agencies say the number is much higher.

With no official refugee camps in Lebanon, those fleeing the violence in Syria are forced to find shelter where they can. Conditions were bearable in the summer, but last week, when some of the worst storms in 20 years lashed Lebanon, families at Al Minieh said it had become intolerable.

“The temperature was zero, our finances are zero,” Mr Salim told The Independent. “It was absolutely the worst. We came with nothing but the clothes on our backs, we were not ready for the winter.”

Alia al-Jaffar arrived seven days ago from Al Qusair, just over the border in the province of Homs. She looks much older than her 30 years. Her husband stayed behind, too afraid to cross, leaving her with little means of supporting her four children. Her tent in Minieh is bare aside from one mattress and a few blankets in which her 10-year-old son huddles, suffering from a rasping cough. The open drain just outside her tent overflowed in the recent rains, sending the stinking water into her tent. She says she has agreed to pay $100 a month to the local landowner for the privilege of pitching a tent here, though she is not sure how she will find the money. Still, she’s glad she came.

“There was bombing again in our area, 13 people died in recent weeks, we were too scared to stay,” she says.

“You are sitting in your home and you don’t know where the next shell will fall. There is no bread, no electricity, what would make you stay? Here it is worse than I could have expected, and if I can’t find work the children don’t eat, but at least we have some peace.”

George Rupp, the ICR president who has recently returned from a trip to the region, said those not living in official camps are “grossly underserved and growing increasingly destitute and desperate”.

The ICR says the fear of “horrific” sexual violence is often the driving factor for many to leave Syria, with rape often committed in front of family members in an increasingly brutal sectarian war. Alia says it was one of the reasons her husband urged her to leave.

Many have given up hope of returning home soon. “Only God knows, maybe it will be five years, maybe six years, or maybe we’ll become like the Palestinians,” says Mr Salim.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Travel
travelFrom Notting Hill Carnival to Zombeavers at FrightFest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Engineer-(Support, ITIL, Software Vendor)

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Engineer-(Support, S...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home