Middle East

Syria humanitarian crisis 'deteriorating as winter sets in'

Syrian refugee women and children sit inside a tent in Lebanese village of Taybeh, in the Bekaa valley (15 November 2015) Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than 5 millions Syrian children are in need in of immediate humanitarian assistance

The catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria is deteriorating day by day as winter approaches, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned.

Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to survive with almost no shelter, food or medical care as temperatures fall below freezing.

The ICRC called for better access for aid agencies so they could be reached.

More than 12 million Syrians, including 5.5 million children, are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.

Four million people have fled abroad since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, and about eight million are displaced within the country.

'Terrible conditions'

The ICRC's Near and Middle East director, Robert Mardini, said five years of conflict had left much of Syria's infrastructure destroyed or severely damaged.

"The humanitarian situation in Syria is catastrophic and deteriorating day by day," he said in a statement.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Last winter was particularly brutal, with multiple snow storms hitting Syria and its neighbours

"The people are facing a bitter winter ahead and they have very few resources. We need better access so that aid can be brought to the most vulnerable. The situation is nothing short of critical for many, many people."

Mr Mardini said many of the refugees in countries neighbouring Syria, including Jordan and Lebanon, were living "in terrible conditions and are struggling to find warmth as temperatures fall".

"And they live with the uncertainty of not knowing what tomorrow will bring or even if they will ever make it back home one day," he added.

The ICRC has started distributing winter clothes for 300,000 children between the ages of six months and nine years old, but wants access to many more.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The UN has been providing building materials to help refugees reinforce their makeshift dwellings

Work has also been done to improve the living conditions of dozens of collective-shelters and other places where displaced people are being hosted.

Last winter was particularly brutal, according to the UN refugee agency, with multiple snow storms hitting the region between November and January.

In Lebanon's Bekaa valley, temperatures fell to -15C (5F) while refugees were shovelling up to 50cm (20in) of snow off the roofs of their makeshift dwellings. In Jordan, refugees in camps saw their shelters damaged by high winds and flooding.

Although the ICRC statement made no mention of the UK's decision to begin air strikes targeting the jihadist group Islamic State in Syria on Thursday, the timing was not a coincidence, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva.

The ICRC clearly hopes to remind the public of the desperate situation for Syria's civilians, our correspondent adds.

In a separate development on Thursday, Russian troops in Syria were said to be working to expand and reinforce an airbase in the interior of the country.

Until now Russian warplanes have been operating out of an airstrip in Latakia province, on the Mediterranean coast. But the current work is reportedly being done at the Shayrat airbase, near the city of Homs, which lies much further inland.

And activists monitoring the war believe Moscow may be planning to develop the Shayrat facility into a new site from which to carry out air strikes in support of the government of President Assad.