An international humanitarian relief agency with operations in St. James has put out a national call for help to keep some 45,000 refugees warm as winter arrives in the Middle East.
Sub-zero temperatures and rain are beginning to threaten refugees at the Za’atari camp in northern Jordan, said Robert Granke, executive director of Canadian Lutheran World Relief, headquartered in Winnipeg with offices downtown and warehouse operations on King Edward Street near Polo Park.
"It’s not like a Winnipeg winter, but it’s cold, with rain, sleet, and snow," Granke said in an interview from Jerusalem.
"If they don’t get support, I fear for the worst for them. The vulnerable will not survive."
Granke recently toured the camp, established in July 2012 and located 70 kilometres from the Syrian border.
It has become one of many shelters sought out by the 2.5 million Syrians who have been displaced from their homes because of an ongoing and violent civil war.
Children and youth make up more than 55% of the camp’s population, and most walk without shoes and are dressed in light summer clothing, Granke said.
They live in tents that will be defenceless against the approaching cold weather, he said.
"These are people in a crisis situation," he said.
"Their homes have been ruined, their family members have been killed. These people were given an ultimatum to fight and kill their family members and neighbours, or escape.
"They’re life has changed and we feel an obligation to assist them as best we can," he added.
Granke, who lives in Fort Richmond, is hoping Canadians can help provide warm clothing, winterized shelters and heaters for camp residents. But it will be an expensive endeavour, costing about $200 to outfit each family, Granke admits.
Cash donations will be able to provide immediate relief to purchase supplies from neighbouring countries, he said.
The organization is also appealing for donations of blankets, quilts and kits that will be assembled and shipped from its warehouse.
"That will take a little longer (to organize), but we’re working on it now," Granke said.
Up to 300 new refugees arrive at the camp each day, and it is expected to double in size in coming months as the war continues, Granke added.
The agency has called on the federal government to increase financial support to Syrians affected by the war, and to match donations made by Canadians to the cause.
Canadian Lutheran World Relief spends about $10 million a year in relief and long-term development assistance across eight countries in the Middle East, Africa and South America.
For more, or to make a donation, visit www.clwr.org.