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UNHCR launches appeal to aid refugees as winter hits Europe

A refugee huddles up against the cold on the border between Serbia and Croatia.

A refugee huddles up against the cold on the border between Serbia and Croatia. © UNHCR / M. Henley

GENEVA, Nov 5 (UNHCR)—With thousands of refugees and migrants continuing to arrive in Europe via the Mediterranean each day as winter approaches, the UN refugee agency is appealing to donors for US$96.15 million in additional support for Greece and affected countries in the Balkans.

UNHCR’s new winter plan anticipates as many as 5,000 arrivals to reach Greece each day from Turkey between November 2015 and February 2016, when winter storms frequently buffet the region and temperatures fall below freezing.

“Harsh weather conditions are likely to exacerbate the suffering of the thousands of refugees and migrants landing in Greece and travelling through the Balkans, and may result in further loss of life if adequate measures are not taken urgently,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said.

“The plan focuses on putting in place measures to support affected countries such as Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Slovenia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in order to avert the risk of humanitarian tragedy and loss of life during the winter months,” he added.

So far this year, more than 3,400 people have lost their lives or been reported missing as they seek to reach Europe. At least 200 have died making the hazardous sea crossing to Greece by sea from Turkey.

Under the plan, UNHCR will prepare, adapt and upgrade existing shelter and reception facilities against the winter chill and damp— a process known as “winterization.” It will also supply emergency shelters such as family tents, refugee housing units and large, tent-like structures called Rubb halls that will be equipped with heating.

“Most refugees and migrants will be exposed to the cold and to adverse weather conditions during their journey,” Spindler said. “Winter clothing and blankets, as well as other essential items for protecting people from the elements, will be included in the aid packages to be distributed to individuals with specific needs,” he added.

While transportation by buses or train is available in many places, there remain long stretches of roads that refugees and migrants may have to walk along in order to access reception and registration facilities.

Should government authorities or other partners not be in a position to provide alternative arrangements, as an interim measure, UNHCR will consider providing transportation to reception centres to expedite access by refugees and asylum-seekers to assistance and protection services, while reducing their exposure to the elements.

The UN refugee agency will work with national and local authorities, Red Cross organizations, NGOs and local volunteer networks to meet any gaps in the provision of hot food and hot drinks at key arrival locations and reception centres.

The agency will also work on the winterization of water systems, including insulating water pipelines, pumps, tanks and reservoirs as well as sanitation facilities, showers, wash basins and laundry facilities.

The US$96.15 million appeal launched today builds on the emergency appeal for the Initial Response Plan for the Refugee Crisis in Europe, issued on September 8 2015, and the supplementary appeal for the Special Mediterranean Initiative (June-December 2015), issued on September 30 2015.

This winterization appeal forms part of a comprehensive Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan, which calls on partners to join UNHCR and IOM on a wide-ranging response.

With the new appeal, UNHCR’s total supplementary requirements now stand at US$172,724,529.

The Winterization Plan for the Refugee Crisis in Europe can be downloaded here.