Syrian refugees weather harsh winter far from home

Jordan, Syria, January 15, 2013

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Rob Maroni/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Last week's winter storms left more than 50,000 refugees in the Zaatari camp struggling to stay warm and dry. Photo: Rob Maroni/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Rob Maroni/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Many tents were inundated with muddy ponds that sprung up throughout the camp. Some collapsed altogether under the ferocious wind. Photo: Rob Maroni/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Rob Maroni/Mercy Corps  </span>
    People camped out on the road with all of their belongings were a common sight after being flooded out of their tents last week. Photo: Rob Maroni/Mercy Corps

I visited Zaatari refugee camp last week, after winter storms brought further hardship to the more than 50,000 Syrian refugees who now call it home. Days of sleet and freezing rain had left mud puddles everywhere.

Flooding seeped into tents — if they hadn't collapsed under the windy deluge. People were cold, wet and very angry.

The day before, a riot had injured a number of people, including several aid workers. The despair was still thick during my visit.

I saw trucks beginning work to alleviate the flooded and muddy conditions, but weather will only continue to get worse.

We've been working at Zaatari since it opened in July, when we began building playgrounds and shaded spaces for children to safely play away from the scorching sun. Now those same covered areas are providing a place to stay warm and dry from frigid rain.

Our staff leads organised games and provides play equipment so kids can engage in activities that take their mind off the difficult situation.

We also began getting winter supplies to families in the camp, many of whom fled with nothing more than the t-shirt they were wearing. Working with a local organisation, we're coordinating efforts for local Jordanians to donate warm clothing, shoes, blankets and other essentials.

There is a robust community of support to help families in these desperate conditions. But resources are stretched thin as more refugees continue to stream across the border.

In fact, nearly 120,000 more refugees have settled elsewhere in Jordan, staying with friends or in other crowded homes with host families. Gas for heating has grown scarce.

We're helping families improve their homes to ward off the increasingly chill weather, and are distributing heaters and fuel, plus clothes and blankets.

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