A Syrian mother with her child wrapped in blankets
Location icon Jordan

How UNHCR Is Helping Refugees Survive Winter

Why cash assistance provides a lifeline for Syrian refugees

Last December, as temperatures fell in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Nawal struggled to heat the run-down apartment she shares with her five children.

“Last winter went very hard on us,” she remembers. The roof began to leak when it rained, and their heater broke. Even if it was working, they didn’t have the money to pay for gas. “We only had a couple of blankets to keep us warm,” she says. 

As a Syrian refugee and the head of her household, Nawal relies on UNHCR’s cash assistance for living expenses including rent, electricity and medicine. But in the colder months, when nights drop below zero and the days aren’t much warmer, the money she receives doesn’t stretch to cover the extra cost of blankets and fuel.

That’s why UNHCR has already started distributing one-off Winter Assistance payments to refugees in Jordan, with special attention being given to female-headed households, the elderly, and people with medical needs, as well as survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

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Nawal, a Syrian refugee and single mother of five, is receiving winter cash assistance from UNHCR. © UNHCR/Mohammad Hawari

Over 76,000 refugee families like Nawal’s from countries including Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Sudan have already received assistance, and further payments will cover 23,000 refugee families over the coming weeks. All in all, UNHCR will support 46 per cent – or 100,000 – of the poorest and most vulnerable refugee families over the course of winter.

This year, Nawal is one of these lucky ones. Learning that she’d qualified for assistance left her speechless. “I can’t describe my feelings,” she says.

All she wants for her children is safety and security, but in the last decade, both have been fleeting.

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Hala Nawayseh, Cash Based Assistance Associate, talks to Mohammad, 3, a Syrian refugee in Amman, Jordan. © UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle

Since fleeing her hometown of Daraa in 2013, Nawal, her husband and children spent time in a refugee camp before moving to Amman, where they slowly built a new life in the city. But soon afterwards, Nawal’s husband was diagnosed with cancer and in 2016 he died, leaving Nawal devastated and the sole provider for her children. “My life changed upside down after he left us,” she says. 

Alone, and with bills mounting, Nawal was thrilled to receive cash assistance from UNHCR, but in 2019 – due to lack of funding – her payments ceased, and she found herself adrift, without support, again. She received UNHCR COVID cash assistance last year, but this Winter Assistance payment will make a huge difference to her situation. The amount of money that refugees receive is determined by their family size and varies from $US263 [$A370] for a single person to $US564 [$A790] for a family of seven.

Last year, 90 per cent of refugees who received assistance said that it helped them to improve their living conditions and reduce stress, and for Nawal, it will mean a much better winter than last year. “Winter Assistance will provide mercy for us,” she says.

Make a one-off donation to help refugees this winter


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