Middle East refugees need help facing harsh winter

Friday 30/10/2015

More than 670,000 refugees have made the danger­ous journey across the Mediterranean in 2015 and at least 2,800 have died in the process, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
As winter approaches, temperatures are drop­ping in Europe and conditions for migration are becoming even more treacherous. However, the flow of desperate refugees is relentless. Fears over impending winter weather might be spurring even more Syrians, Iraqis and others to undertake the arduous journey from Turkey to Greece and then across the Balkans to Austria and Germany before temperatures dramatically fall.
The initial factors that forced refugees to flee their homes — war and escalating bloodshed — continue unabated. The new Russian bombing campaign could force tens of thousands more refugees to flee Syria, especially from hard-hit Aleppo province.
The predicament of the migrants as winter approaches is further complicated by the inability of the European Union to agree on an efficient system that allows for the quick relocation of refugees.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that urgent, coordinated measures needed to be taken to cope with the escalating crisis, the worst of its kind since the second world war. “Every day counts,” he said. “Otherwise we will soon see families in cold rivers in the Balkans perish miserably.”
Each week seems to bring a new episode of European squabbling, finger-pointing and attempts to block the flow of migrants. Slovenia recently said it was considering erecting a fence on its border with Croatia to stem the flow of migrants; Hungary already has erected one blocking access to its territory for refugees.
Many European countries that are better disposed to welcome migrants seem overwhelmed by the flow of refugees and are not able to provide adequate housing before the onset of winter. Authorities in Germany and Austria have been struggling to find permanent housing even for those who have been granted asylum.
Some refugees are still in tents — some not heated — despite falling temperatures. And colder weather is yet to come. Reuters reports that refugees took to the streets to protest against sleeping in unheated tents.
“As winter looms, the sight of thousands of refugees sleeping rough as they make their way through Europe represents a damning indictment of the EU’s failure to offer a coordinated response to the refugee crisis,” said John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International.
The task of many European governments is complicated by xenophobic movements trying to stir up feelings of intolerance in host communities.
In Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, millions of displaced people will again experience rain, cold and snow in inadequate shelter. The UNHCR already warns that its winter programmes are underfunded. Thousands run the risk of spending the winter without heating or cooking fuel and warm housing. Tens of thousands of vulnerable refugees may not survive the winter without the necessary help.