The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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December 1, 2014

The Daily Star - Destitute and trapped Syrian refugees dread winter’s cold, December 01, 2014

With shoulders hunched against the bitter cold, a group of Syrian refugees shouted over one another. “We have no diesel!” one woman said. “We have no water,” another added, rattling two empty half-gallon bottles. “Where is the United Nations?” In the northeastern border town of Arsal, Syrian refugees say they are trapped and ill-equipped for the fast-approaching winter. Many Syrians are barred from entering or leaving Arsal, the site of violent clashes between Islamist militants and the Lebanese Army last August when the extremists briefly took over the town.

Refugees cannot cross the porous border and return to Syria, as militants affiliated with ISIS and the Nusra Front have ensconced themselves in the hills surrounding the town, and the Lebanese Army has set up regular patrols there. Moreover, the United Nations has been unable to enter Arsal since last August.

Money and supplies are running dangerously low, refugees said.

“Arsal is like a prison. We are trapped,” said Fouda, a refugee living in a tented settlement.

After a week of heavy rainfall, stagnant water pools around the refugee camps spread across the town. When it rains, water leaks into the flimsy tents.

Lacking clean water, some refugees crouch down and wash their hands in the fetid pools of water. An outbreak of Hepatitis A, caused by exposure to contaminated water, has spread throughout the town.

But the coming bitter cold is a bigger concern for many refugees in the town. Snow has already covered the mountains surrounding Arsal.

“The weather here is very difficult on us and the children.”

Last week, a newborn baby died in Arsal after complications from the cold.

“We don’t have winter clothes,” said Mahasen, a refugee, pointing at her ill-clad children. “They don’t even have jackets.”

During the day, Mahasen affixes blankets to the inside walls of her tent for insulation. At night, her family huddles under the blankets for warmth.

The refugees’ situation has been compounded by the United Nations’ inability to distribute aid directly in Arsal due to the security situation.

UNHCR spokesperson Dana Sleiman said that while the organization has been unable to access Arsal for nearly four months, it is coordinating with Dar al-Fatwa to distribute blankets and fuel vouchers, and to help shore up refugees’ tents for the coming cold weather.

Maan Abu Ahmad, a Syrian helping to coordinate aid in Arsal, said that while those registered with the U.N. are receiving aid via Dar al-Fatwa, many refugees in the town are either not registered or have been removed from official refugee registration lists. “So we have groups of families who are not able to benefit from this support,” he said.

Moreover, a humanitarian source said that male refugees over the age of 16 are not allowed to enter or leave Arsal, severely limiting families’ opportunities to earn income.

“My father is old and my brothers aren’t working because in Arsal there’s no work. We’ve been removed from the U.N. list. Living is hard,” said Einat, a refugee in Arsal.

Of particular concern is the lack of fuel. While most refugees have small stoves or “soubia” in their tents, the shortage of fuel makes it hard to keep them lit.

“We light it, but it goes out every 10 minutes,” Malek said as he sat near a barely lit stove. As if on cue, the flame fizzled out minutes later.

While some have decried the Lebanese Army’s effective blockade of Arsal as an unjust and draconian measure, the security situation in the town remains precarious.

The Army defused a 20 kilogram bomb and an anti-tank mine on the outskirts of Arsal Saturday morning. Army outposts near Arsal have been attacked repeatedly in recent months, and several Lebanese and Syrians have been kidnapped by armed groups.

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