Arsal, Lebanon – Ahmed Bareesh, lying in his tent on a thin mattress under a blanket, struggles to sit upright even with his wife’s support.
His crutch that aids his walking rests inches away, taking up most of the space in the tarpaulin tent that has become his home since 2013, when he and his family fled Homs in neighbouring Syria.
“I have seen many doctors both in Syria and Lebanon, but no one has been able to diagnose me yet,” the 30-year-old said.
Bareesh has not been able to seek adequate medical attention while living in Arsal, a small isolated border town that not long ago was a stronghold of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
Arsal was declared ISIL-free in August 2017 by both the Lebanese army and Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Lebanese armed group and political party that has been fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
While the region recovers from yet another winter storm that battered refugee camps, aid cuts and a life in isolation have made it increasingly difficult for Bareesh to support his family as they battle freezing temperatures.
Thousands of other refugees in Arsal have the same problem. Military checkpoints surrounding the town have made it extremely difficult for NGOs to visit and for aid to be delivered.
According to the UNHCR’s latest figures, winter storms affected more than 22,000 Syrian refugees living in 574 settlement structures across Lebanon.
Tents either flooded or completely collapsed, leaving families without mattresses, blankets, food items and clothing.
Bareesh’s wife, Rabaa Hourani, says it is strenuous to live without the support of their extended family, many of whom are among the more than one million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon.
“We hardly ever leave,” she said. “And they can never come see us here.”
The couple have two young children who have never seen their grandparents who reside in Syria.
Despite the many obstacles faced in Lebanon, both Bareesh and his wife say enduring harsh winters, year after year, is still “better and safer” than opting to return home.
“We endured senseless shelling and bombardment for three years in Syria before we were forced to leave,” Hourani said.