No Shelter from the Cold in Lebanon

The Syria conflict, which has entered its third winter of war, has seen the displacement of over half of the Palestine refugees in Syria, or about 270,000 children, women and men.  An additional 80,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, including Lebanon. For many, this is the second and even third time of displacement in their lifetime.

In Lebanon, some 51,000 Palestine refugees from Syria were counted at the end of November 2013. Over half of these refugees are sheltering in the 12 already over crowded Palestine refugee camps in the country. The rest find shelter where they can, in apartments for rent, garages or under a staircase.  The hardship of the Palestine refugees from Syria is compounded by the existing legal and social vulnerabilities of other Palestine refugees in the country.  Following three years of persistent conflict and deteriorating economic conditions in Syria, their resilience is severely challenged. 

For most of them in the circumstances, UNRWA is the only lifeline.  To alleviate the suffering of these Palestine refugees from Syria, UNRWA provides urgent humanitarian assistance in the form of food, cash, household and winterization items, as well as education and health services. 

The photo essays documents the living conditions of some of the Palestine refugees in Lebanon faced by the harsh onset of winter and the hardships they face. Read more about the situation of Palestine refugees in Lebanon  - and to find out how you can help #GiveWrap this winter


Nov. 27, 2013, Beqaa Valley

Nov. 27, 2013, Beqaa Valley. © Shafiq Fahed/UNRWA Archives

For the most part, refugees fleeing Syria enter Lebanon through the Beqaa Valley. For the Palestinians among them, now numbering 51,000, the flight from Syria is yet another episode in a long history of displacement and fragmentation.

The approximately 260,000 Palestine refugees living in Lebanon before the crisis already led a legally marginalized and impoverished existence in the squalid refugee camps. Since August 2013, greater restrictions at the border placed on Palestine refugees from Syria further compound their vulnerability of the new arrivals.

 The Khan al Ahmar Mihtawish community

Dec. 14, 2013.Beqaa Valley. In the Beqaa, Palestine refugees often live in same encampments as Syrian refugees. © Mahmoud Khair/UNRWA Archives

The conflict in Syria has exacerbated political and social tensions in Lebanon. The arrival of new refugees from Syria has increased the burden on UNRWA services and severely strains the coping strategies of the whole community. With this extreme vulnerability come inherent risks to social cohesion and stability.

Dec 14, 2013, Tyre Area

Dec 14, 2013, Tyre Area. Palestine refugees from Syria staying warm during winter storm Alexa. © Mohammad Marouf/UNRWA Archives

Hardship is worst felt at the onset of winter. This Palestine refugee family from Syria is living in a garage in Rashidiyeh Camp, Tyre, Lebanon. The family fled Sbeineh Camp in Syria in March 2013. Unable to find work, the family has been relying entirely on UNRWA and other charitable organizations to meet its basic needs.

2013, Beqaa Valley

2013, Beqaa Valley. Blanket distribution. © Kawthar Fahs/ UNRWA Archives

UNRWA provides one-time cash assistance to Palestine refugee families during the winter months to cover their needs for heating fuel and warm clothes. New arrivals receive bedding as well as kitchen and hygiene kits. Those living in the mountains and the Beqaa receive additional blankets and fuel.

Dec 14, 2013, Deir Zannour, Beqaa Valley

Dec 14, 2013, Deir Zannour, Beqaa Valley. © Mahmoud Khair/ UNRWA Archives

Manal Karmoua fled Husseiniyeh with her husband and three children when it was engulfed by fighting. "I earn between 10,000 and 20,000 lira (between US$ 6 and US$ 12) when I can find odd jobs. My 10 year-old is in an UNRWA school but my two other children are home because they are paralyzed," she said. To help most vulnerable families to survive, UNRWA provides cash assistance for shelter and food.

Feb. 25, 2013

Feb. 25, 2013. A Palestine refugee from Syria holds her baby in a single room shelter shared by three families. © Mahmoud Khair/ UNRWA Archives

On average, there are 12.8 individuals per residence, and rent can cost US$ 200 or more per family. Therefore, food and accommodation remain a critical need for many Palestine refugees from Syria.

Dec. 15, 2013

Dec. 15, 2013. An UNRWA sanitation worker clearing strained water sanitation infrastructure in Ein el Helweh Camp, South Lebanon. © Abdelnasser el-Saadi/ UNRWA Archives

UNRWA maintains water supply - and waste disposal networks in the camps and enhances efforts at promoting hygiene. However, the swollen camp population is making this an around-the-clock job.

Feb. 25, 2013

Feb. 25, 2013. Young Palestine refugee from Yarmouk (l) living under a staircase. Mahmoud © Khair/ UNRWA Archives

This Palestine refugee from Syria fled Yarmouk in December 2012, when violent clashes broke out. A single young male with empty pockets, he arrived in the crowded Shatila Camp. Unable to pay for rent, he lives under a staircase open onto the street.

Given the precarious legal status of Palelstine refugees from Syria in Lebanon, protection has become increasingly important in the UNRWA response. Over half of the Palestine refugees from Syria are sheltering in the 12 already overcrowded Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Feb 2, 2012, Beqaa Valley

Feb 2, 2012, Beqaa Valley. © Mahmoud Khair/ UNRWA Archives

Bilal was born in a classroom in a school turned into a collective shelter for Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Despite his celebrated arrival, his parents were at a loss about registering their baby. Already a refugee living in Syria, registering his birth is complicated.

UNRWA provides administrative guidance to refugees on how to obtain visas and civil registration. As a result of the lengthy and complex paperwork, refugees often find themselves in legal limbo.

Nov. 27, 2013, Bar Elias, Beqaa Valley

Nov. 27, 2013, Mar Elias, Beqaa Valley. Palestine refugee students attending an UNRWA school in the afternoon. © Shafiq Fahed/ UNRWA Archives

UNRWA's has enrolled 7,000 Palestine refugee children from Syria in its schools. Students struggle with the Lebanese curriculum, especially the subject matters taught in English. Classes are divided into different levels to best support the transition. UNRWA also offers psycho-social support in its schools for students most affected by their displacement.

Feb. 25, 2013. UNRWA Health Center, Shatila Camp, Beirut

Feb. 25, 2013. UNRWA Health Center, Shatila Camp, Beirut. UNRWA health care comes under pressure when addressing the extra health needs of displaced Palestine refugees from Syria. © Mahmoud Khair/ UNRWA Archives

Palestine refugees from Syria have increased incidences of communicable diseases (such as hepatitis) due to poor hygienic conditions. They are able to freely access UNRWA' s primary health care. The Agency subsidizes life-saving care and covers 50 per cent of hospitalization costs, but the exorbitant costs of Lebanese health care mean that adequate treatment is often beyond the reach of refugees.

Nov. 28, 2013, Ein El Hillweh Camp, South Lebanon

Nov. 28, 2013, Ein El Hillweh Camp, South Lebanon. © Shafiq Fahed/ UNRWA Archives

Ghazi Falaha became disabled when he lost part of his leg in a bomb blast in Yarmouk. He now lives under a staircase in Ein el Hillweh camp. His other foot is badly infected resulting from complications from diabetes. UNRWA's health-care staff, together with UNHCR, Mercy Corps and Al Nida, a local Palestinian NGO, are now supporting him with treatment and shelter.