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Three Syrian refugees, including a five-year-old, have reportedly frozen to death in Lebanon as a major storm dumped snow and rain on the country, sources told Al-Akhbar on Wednesday.

Three refugees, 5-year-old Majd Kheir al-Badawi, 33-year-old Ammar Ahmed Kammal, and Mohammed Ibrahim Abou Daher, were found stuck in the snow and frozen on early Wednesday in Ain al-Joz in the mountains by Shebaa.

A security source said the victims were crossing the mountainous border between Syria and Lebanon in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Al-Akhbar’s source confirmed they were coming from Beit Jinn, an embattled Damascus suburb.

The Lebanese Red Cross only reported two of the deaths to AFP saying, “we have transported the bodies of two Syrians, a man and a five-year-old boy, who were found dead in Ain al-Joz in the mountains by Shebaa” in south Lebanon.

There were no immediate details on whether the man and child were related.

Shebaa, resting on the border between Syria and Lebanon has some 7,000 refugees, many of whom are said to be leaving the area due to the cold.

Sources also told Al-Akhbar that a one-week-old was found dead in a Ersal refugee camp. The report has yet to be confirmed by officials.

The deaths came as a major storm hit the Middle East, bringing misery to over 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in makeshift camps throughout Lebanon.

Many were trapped in their tents by the heavy rain and snow, struggling to stay warm in temperatures hovering around zero degrees.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR distributed cash and fuel coupons to more than 80,000 refugee families ahead of the storm, which forced the closure of all Lebanese ports and briefly shut Beirut’s international airport.

It warned however that “serious gaps” remained in provisions for the Syrian refugees during the storm.

In Majdalun, close to the eastern town of Baalbek, around 40 tents were cut off from others by a thick layer of snow, an AFP photographer said.

“There is a lack of food and heating materials,” said one man who had left his tent.

“We ask charities to intervene. We are scared that the tents will collapse under the weight of the snow.”

Heavy snowfall also cut several roads in mountainous areas of Lebanon, where more than a million Syrians fleeing their war-torn country claimed refuge in the past four years.

In Hawsh al-Umara, close to the town of Zahle, refugees tried to remove the thick layer of snow carpeting their tents.

“We barely managed to walk in the snow to look for fuel,” said one young man.

“I’ve been a refugee here for two years but this is the worst winter I’ve seen,” said Mohammed al-Hussein, who lives in a camp with his wife and five children.

“We feel humiliated,” he added.

Lebanon’s population has grown by nearly 25 percent since the war in Syria began in 2011, with over 1.5 million Syrian refugees sheltered in a country with a population of 4 million, making it the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world.

Overwhelmed by a massive influx of desperate refugees, Lebanon began imposing unprecedented visa restrictions on Syrians on Monday.

“Today we began implementing the new entry measures and Syrians at the borders have begun presenting their documents to enter,” a source at Lebanon’s general security agency said.

Syrians have overtaken Afghans as the largest refugee population aside from Palestinians, fleeing to more than 100 countries to escape war in their homeland, the UN said on Wednesday.

At more than 3 million as of mid-2014, Syrians accounted for nearly one in four of the 13 million refugees worldwide being assisted by the UN refugee agency, the highest figure since 1996, it said in a report. Some 5 million Palestinians refugees are cared for by a separate agency, UNRWA.

According to a report by Amnesty in December, wealthy nations have only taken in a “pitiful” number of the millions of refugees uprooted by Syria’s conflict, placing the burden on the country’s ill-equipped neighbors.

“Around 3.8 million refugees from Syria are being hosted in five main countries within the region: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt,” said Amnesty.

“Only 1.7 percent of this number have been offered sanctuary by the rest of the world,” the rights group added.

It is worth noting that the US annual defense bill, estimated at $584.2 billion, could secure humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees for roughly 700 years.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)


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