This winter has been an especially bleak one for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, many of who have been forced out of their shelters by heavy floods and severe weather.
In an effort to draw attention to the plight of refugee families, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has recruited some of the region’s most famous faces for a mission across Lebanon to raise awareness on refugees’ dire need for cash assistance.
“I would like to convey the real picture of what is happening in these informal settlements, to remind people that refugees and children need their help and assistance, especially with the current weather conditions”, says entrepreneur Joelle Mardinian. Addressing her 9.3m Instagram followers, she invited them each to donate 1$ each to collect a total of 9.3 million dollars. “I will always be there to support UNHCR because it’s a trustworthy organisation, and it’s clear where the funds are going. I would like for people to take action. It’s very easy and simple; we can donate with one click. Every dollar makes a difference”, she said. “UNHCR is not only providing these refugees with winter assistance, but also helping in their education, healthcare and shelter.”
Among the other celebrities on the mission, which was organised in the Bekaa Valley and North Lebanon, was actress Nelly Karim who accepted the winter social media challenge launched by UNHCR as well as media personality Zeina Yazigi. Both have joined the mission alongside actress Shaima Sabt and TV presenter Mahira Abdul Aziz, who have invited their audiences to show solidarity with refugee families by donating funds through the following link: giving.unhcr.org
“Every time I come back to visit the camps, I feel the same pain and surprise at how strong these families are. How can this lady who we just visited remain strong and smile”, says Zeina. “What touched me the most about this mission is the children. A big portion of the refugees are children and are highly affected by this crisis.” added Nelly.
The mission comes as a continuation of UNHCR’s social media winter challenge, an influence-led campaign which started with the beginning of the new year, mobilising individuals, celebrities and public figures to donate to refugees for the winter campaign and nominate others to do the same. Up to date, more than 45 celebrities, including social media influencers and media figures, have taken up the challenge and donated from a variety of countries in the Arab world, including President of Iraq Mr. Barham Salih.
Prolonged high winds and heavy rain brought by Storm Norma earlier in January have led to flooding in towns and villages across Lebanon, which is host to nearly 950,000 Syrian refugees. More than 570 sites hosting 22,500 refugees have been affected, with a number of settlements becoming completely flooded, forcing hundreds of refugees to relocate.
Across Lebanon, UNHCR is assisting more than 168,000 vulnerable refugee families through its winter assistance programme. Support includes distributions of plastic sheeting and wooden poles to help refugees protect their shelters from the elements, as well as a monthly payment of 75 dollars per family for five months, totaling 375 dollars, to help families cover additional expenses during winter such as fuel for heating, medicine and clothes.
In total, UNHCR’s response plan aims to reach 3.5 million people across the region with assistance, and also includes measures to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events. More than two million Syrians and Iraqi IDPs and refugees have been reached with winterisation assistance.