Syrian refugees play with snow at the makeshift refugee camp of Terbol, near the Bekaa Valley town of Zahleh in eastern Lebanon, on December 11, 2013
Syrian refugees play with snow at the makeshift refugee camp of Terbol, near the Bekaa Valley town of Zahleh in eastern Lebanon, on December 11, 2013 © - AFP
Syrian refugees play with snow at the makeshift refugee camp of Terbol, near the Bekaa Valley town of Zahleh in eastern Lebanon, on December 11, 2013
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Rania Sanjar, AFP
Last updated: December 12, 2013

Snowstorm brings new misery for Syria refugees

Syrian refugee Faisal looks down at the muddy floor of his tent in a field in eastern Lebanon as it is battered by a snowstorm.

"I'd rather die a million times than live through this humilation," the 48-year-old says bitterly.

"Nobody else has had to go through what's happening to us. Every country is plotting against us, they're all traitors," Faisal rages, his head wrapped in a scarf.

In the Saadnayel area, as elsewhere in Lebanon where informal tented camps have sprouted to house families fleeing the carnage in neighbouring Syria, Syrians who have survived the war are now battling the forces of nature.

The father of four from Idlib in northwestern Syria felt he was speaking for most of his compatriots who feel they have been abandoned by the international community.

More than 835,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, although the real number is thought to total more than one million.

Thousands get by in makeshift camps, in shelters made of little more than plastic sheeting nailed to wooden frames -- a flimsy barrier against fierce winter weather.

Others live in unfinished buildings with only slightly more protection from the elements in cities including the capital Beirut.

More than 500 refugees live in Faisal's camp, and few have more than rudimentary heating to fend off the chill of the storm dubbed "Alexa" that is battering Lebanon.

"I hate the cold," says Sakr, 13, swathed in a hooded coat.

"When it snows, the meltwater becomes mud inside the tents, which collapse on our heads because of the weight of snow."

Other children, some with no hats at all, sneeze and rub frozen hands together, their shoes caked in mud.

"Give us something to keep us warm," they ask a group of journalists.

Drastic measures just to keep warm

Farther along, a man hammers in a nail so he can hang a picture at the entrance to his tent.

Inside, men and women cradle babies in their arms, trying to transfer some of their own body heat.

A man on crutches, his feet bare, stares silently at the mud on the ground.

Some refugees have resorted to drastic measures in an attempt to counter the effects of the biting wind.

"We have to burn shoes to keep the heater going because there's no other fuel," says 40-year-old Najla.

This releases an acrid stink that fills the tents that are now "home" to at least six people each.

At Arsal, also in eastern Lebanon and some eight kilometres (five miles) from the border with Syria, the tents were draped in snow Wednesday as the temperature hovered just above freezing.

At night, however, in the area known for supporting the armed opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces, the temperature drops to four below.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Lebanese army have been handing out thermal blankets and money for heating fuel.

But despite such efforts, there are major concerns about the fate of refugees living in more than 200 makeshift camps in northern and eastern Lebanon.

"We are worried, because it is really cold in the Bekaa region, and we're extremely worried about the refugees living in makeshift shelters, because many are really substandard," said UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled.

The UNHCR has prepared stockpiles of items including plastic sheeting, floor mats, blankets and mattresses to help refugees whose shelters might be flooded or destroyed by the storm.

"The Syrian refugees here are shivering with cold, especially the ones in tents," Wafiq Khalaf, a member of Arsal's municipal council, told AFP by phone.

"Water has come into the tents from the roofs, and from the ground where there is flooding," he said.

But despite the misery wrought by the winter storm, Khalaf said the refugees keep on coming, among them 10 families fleeing the Syrian town of Yabrud in the Qalamoun region north of Damascus.

Yabrud is the last rebel-held stronghold in the strategic area near the border, and is being pounded by government forces.

In the past few months, more than 20,000 new refugees have arrived in the Arsal region alone, overwhelming the small town.

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