The UN’s refugee agency has confirmed that at least 13 Syrians, including women and children, have lost their lives during a snowstorm while trying to flee their war-stricken country into neighboring Lebanon.
A group of Syrians had tried to enter Lebanon through a rugged route late on Thursday, but were caught in a fierce storm.
“The victims were trying to cross an arduous and rugged passage in freezing temperatures,” the UNHCR said in a statement on Saturday.
It said that “others in the group, including a pregnant woman, were discovered in time and assisted by nearby residents and the Lebanese Armed Forces and Civil Defense to reach hospitals before they froze to death.”
The Lebanese army and civil defense said on Friday they had retrieved the bodies of 10 Syrians, including two children and six women. However, the toll has since increased.
Meanwhile, a Lebanese army source said on Saturday that the toll had reached 14.
“The army retrieved a total of 12 bodies on Friday, and one person died at the hospital. Another body was found on Saturday, bringing the total to 14,” the source said.
Some 1.5 million Syrian refugees have been living in Lebanon since a foreign-backed war started in Syria in 2011.
Many of the refugees live in informal tented settlements in the country’s east and struggle to stay warm in the winter.
The UN’s children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Saturday it was distributing blankets, warm clothes and heating fuel.
“More children could be among the dead as residents in the area and the Lebanese authorities continue to look for people who are reportedly trapped in the mountainous in freezing temperatures and snow,” a UNICEF statement said.
The UN agency further called on the international community to step up assistance for the most affected children.
Many in Lebanon, a country of around six million people to the west of Syria, are demanding that the government facilitate the return of Syrians who have arrived in the country since 2011, arguing the Syrian government has managed to purge many areas of terrorists and refugees can now safely return to their homes.