This week has been the first time I have felt the cold since arriving in Egypt six weeks ago. My morning walk to work now feels noticeably autumnal – however much the palm trees along the way might make you think otherwise. Thankfully, my ‘just in case’ attitude to packing means I have a nice warm jumper for chillier nights. From my conversations with Syrian refugee families and children, however, it is clear that many of them do not.
Zeinab Abdelkawi holds Naser*, 1, and his new baby blanket provided by Save the Children
“We thought that we would only stay three months, and we came in the summer so we didn’t bring any thick clothes”, Osman* tells me during my visit to one of Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces, where Syrian refugee children can play and share their experiences in a safe environment.
No end in sight
Osman is 13. His family came to Cairo with enough savings to stay for a while, but the conflict in Syria has dragged on and their money has run out.
He tells me it started getting cold two weeks ago, and what they really need are heaters for their home. Even with his two brothers working, however, the family struggle to pay the rent – leaving little money for anything extra.
Ali*, aged 3, eyes the adult and baby winter blankets lined up for distribution by Save the Children
They didn’t expect cold Osman’s story is echoed by Rana*, 12, who I meet in another area of Cairo where many Syrian refugees have settled.
Last winter, Rana’s family simply stayed inside as much as they could. All they brought from Syria were some blankets; describing her current home, Rana tells me “there is nothing for the winter”. Neither of her parents have work, so they cannot afford to buy warmer clothes for Rana and her brothers and sisters. Rana explains that their Syrian neighbours are having similar problems: they arrived without anything for winter – not expecting Egypt to be cold – and have no money to buy what they need.
Save the Children has already distributed adult and baby winter blankets in the two areas I visited, helping to protect 1,865 vulnerable Syria refugees against the cold. While everyone is in broadly the same predicament, each family has specific needs depending on their circumstances, which is why we are tailoring our plans to provide them with choice. We are looking into using a flexible voucher system so that people can decide whether clothes, carpets or a room heater are most important for their family.
Egypt certainly doesn’t have a reputation for nasty winters: many countries within the Syrian region are colder. However, people who have left their country and do not know when they’ll be able to return have enough to deal with. Cold, and the needs and problems that come with it, shouldn’t be added to their burden.
*Names have been changed to protect identity