The cold grips Syria's refugees in Lebanon. They cannot be left to freeze

More than a million child refugees are struggling to cope

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In the heart of a tiny country, a tiny baby is struggling for life. Four months ago, Amira* was born a refugee in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley in an ever-expanding wasteland of precarious, handmade shacks, housing desperate Syrians. Her mother is one of the more than 800,000 refugees inside the borders of Syria’s smallest neighbour. She fled a flare-up in vicious fighting; carrying what she could of her life – a bag, a book and a bump.

Now, as the bitter cold closes in, and storms start to pour through the fragile shelters that surround her, disease is stalking. For weeks, little Amira has had constant diarrhoea. She has just been diagnosed with malnutrition. When I visited Lebanon a few weeks ago, sewers that ran by the unheated, improvised tents, were already belching in the winter rains, coating the pathways in filth. Amira looked half the weight she should be.

Too many Syrian children like her are out in the cold.  Close to six million in Syria and across the region are in urgent need of aid. Inside Syria the picture is bleak. Hundreds of thousands of children are trapped by fighting inside the country, cut off from lifesaving supplies.  In countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, more than a million child refugees are struggling to cope in what I can vouch are heartbreaking conditions. Many arrived in the summer months, escaping Syria with just the clothes on their back. During last year’s winter, the desert froze and temperatures fell as low as minus six. 

And beyond the physical toll of their circumstances, the long-term impact of the conflict is equally devastating. Children have witnessed horrific violence. I spoke to young girls and boys who had seen family and friends killed in front of them. Others have been out of school for nearly three years, with their future prospects hanging in the balance. Children who already appear to have lost everything are on the brink of losing more. 

Aid agencies like UNICEF are doing what they can – working to deliver potentially life-saving warm blankets, winter clothes and shoes, as well as education and psychological support. But the numbers are growing every single day. When I was in Lebanon, twenty thousand people flooded across the border in a matter of days. Twenty thousand extra people needing homes, clothing and medications - practically overnight.

Watching this crisis roll on towards its fourth year, I want to ride over words like intractable with calculated action. Of course a peaceful political solution is essential and we need to keep up vital negotiations, such as calling for all sides in the conflict to agree to unconditional humanitarian access inside Syria. However, right now, every one of us can play a part in stepping up aid and bringing in children from the cold. Until the end of January, the UK government is matching donations to UNICEF’s appeal, pound for pound. Children like Amira urgently need supplies to keep them warm and stave off disease. They cannot wait for maybes.

Up until 31 January 2014, the UK Government will match pound for pound all public donations made to UNICEF’s work for the children of Syria. Text WARM to 70111 to give £3 or visit unicef.org.uk

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