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Lebanon: Syrian refugees brace for more floods as new storm nears | News

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Bekaa Valley, Lebanon Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s east are bracing for yet another potentially heavy storm which is set to bring rains and snowfall on Sunday.

Warnings of a looming winter storm have pushed refugees in Ghazze, a town in the Bekaa Valley, to take precautions against another round of floods, days after the country was hit by Storm Norma on January 6.

Lebanon is home to more than one million Syrian refugees, most of whom live in informal settlements made out of tarpaulin tents supported by wooden frames.

They are usually required to pay landowners rent ranging from $50 to $200, depending on the area, even as half of the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon already lives in extreme poverty, earning less than $3 a day, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).






WATCH: Lebanon – Winter storm adds to Syrian refugees’ suffering (02:00)

During last week’s storm, many have found shelter in incomplete housing units, garages, or evacuated schools as the country does not permit them to upgrade their tents to more permanent structures.

‘The tent was our castle’

In Ghazze, refugees are housed in at least 1,500 tents divided over several unofficial camps, according to municipality figures published last year. In one camp, dubbed “008” by the UN, at least 36 out of 48 tents were flooded during Storm Norma.

While some families in Ghazze say they have no other option than to withstand the upcoming storm, others have already sought temporary shelter.

Wessal Al Mustafa, a mother of five, said she simply cannot put her children through a storm similar to Norma, which affected more than 11,000 Syrian refugees across the country. “The last storm was so sudden,” Al Mustafa, who fled Raqqa in 2014, told Al Jazeera.

“I barely managed to rush my children out of the tent, let alone grab a few clothing items before we were completely soaked,” the 32-year-old said.

“To us, this tent was our castle.”





Mustafa’s says she and her children were forced to leave behind what little they owned [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera] 

The family lost their mattresses, blankets, food items, and most of their clothing to the floods.

Their tent carried a stench of mold that has forced the Al Mustafa family to seek temporary, yet more expensive shelter in a nearby housing complex until the tent is restored.

The camps lack adequate infrastructure, and given the poor sewage systems, wastewater has overflowed and seeped into the tents, increasing the risk of diseases in the crammed settlements.

Since the arrival of the refugees from neighbouring Syria, NGOs have taken the responsibility of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) efforts, but in Ghazze these efforts have been halted due to lack of funding.

Mustafa’s eldest daughter, Fatma, said she wishes she could have saved more of her clothes from the floods.

“I had to carry my younger sister, who was in shock as the water quickly filled up the tent and reached our hips,” the 14-year-old said.

‘Sheer negligence’

There has been a stark deterioration in shelter conditions for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to a 2018 UN study.

Fundraising campaigns led by NGOs and individuals may bring temporary relief to refugees, but Syrians in Ghazze say more is needed to be done by the government to improve living conditions.

The camp’s community leader told Al Jazeera that he has already mobilised a team of “young men” who will be assisting in evacuating families with flooded tents to neighbouring camps that have remained unaffected, and garages in the area.

“We have called on the local municipality time and time again to at least raise the ground level of the tents here, but they have yet to respond,” Hussam Mansour told Al Jazeera.

“It’s sheer negligence on their part,” he said.





Many families sought shelter in an education centre run by Syrians [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera] 

According to Mansour, some NGOs arrived on Saturday to distribute blankets and mattresses, as well as gas for heaters.

The main highway connecting the capital Beirut to the Bekaa Valley had been sealed off to trucks transporting aid, and was only been cleared for the passage of such larger vehicles by authorities on Saturday.

‘Nothing to return to’

Meanwhile, an education centre run by a group of Syrian women will be open as a temporary shelter for families evacuated in Ghazze.

Ghada Abu Mito, cofounder of Dammah, the NGO that runs the school, said the centre has begun preparing for the next storm by clearing classrooms for families who will require immediate shelter.

“We laid out blankets and mattresses in the classrooms, and will also heat the rooms which is important especially for the children,” Abu Mito told Al Jazeera.

Last week, some 13 families sought shelter in the centre, Abu Mito said.

“We had to respond to the crisis quickly and accommodated 75 people for about four days,” she said, adding almost all of those who evacuated suffered flu symptoms and chest infections, she said.

“Their psychological state was a mess,” she added. “Many wondered why no one rushed to help.”





 Lebanon has always said it wants Syrian refugees to return to Syria [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Lebanon’s leaders have urged Syrian refugees to return to their home country, but many refugees still fear being either arrested or drafted into the army upon repatriation.

UNHCR’s Rana Khoury told Al Jazeera the agency has been advocating for either the resettlement of refugees to a third countries, or working with concerned authorities to remove obstacles refugees are seeing for their return to Syria.

“We’re advocating for these two solutions because the government does not allow for permanent resettlement,” Khoury explained.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are unable to work, and can only obtain work permits to work in agriculture and construction to sustain themselves in the country, which has suffered economically over the years.

The prolonged political deadlock over the formation of a new government has also worsening the situation.

Still, for people such as Wessal Al Mustafa, staying in Lebanon amid challenges such as the harsh winters, is the only option.

“I love my country … but for now, there is nothing to return to,” she said.






Al Jazeera World: Beirut’s Refugee Artists (46:43)

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25 Best Senators’ Memories From 25 Years at Canadian Tire Centre

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There is a special birthday in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata this weekend.

Canadian Tire Centre turns 25. Its doors first opened on Jan. 15, 1996, for a Bryan Adams concert. The Senators played their first game in their new arena on Jan. 17, 1996, when they lost to the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life has at that arena. I don’t know how many Sens games I have been to there — I would ballpark it somewhere between 600 and 700. But I thought it would be fun to look back and share my 25 most memorable moments at the arena. I am not counting numerous concerts as great moments in the building — I often joke that the four best concerts I have ever seen there are Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks and Garth Brooks. I am not counting the 2009 World Juniors either. I am sticking entirely to the Sens.

25. Paul MacClone

Mike Watson was just sitting in his company seats, minding his own business, watching the Ottawa Senators take on the Florida Panthers on a January night during the 2012-13 season. The casual discussion among reporters after the game was how he broke Twitter.

Watson’s friends had told him that he looked like then-Senators’ head coach Paul MacLean. When he got face time on the new high-definition scoreboard, in the front row and directly behind the coach, the crowd buzzed and cheered.

Senators coach Paul MacLean had a doppelganger behind the bench.

The shot of Watson behind the bench spread quickly on social media. Surely, everyone thought, he must have been planted in that seat. He wasn’t. The last time he had sat in those seats, Cory Clouston was the coach, and no one noticed him.

As the season went on, the MacLean doppelganger became a local celebrity and was somewhat of a mascot during Ottawa’s playoff run.

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With spare parts and derring-do, Ottawa’s own Rocketman reinvents skating

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An Ottawa man is turning heads on frozen stretches of the Ottawa River with a homemade device he jokingly refers to as his “jetpack.”

In reality, Brydon Gibson’s gas-powered, propeller-driven invention is more Rona than NASA.

“I got my hands on some weed whacker motors and I figured strapping one on my back and making skating a little bit lazier would [be] a good idea,” said Gibson, 24.

He bolted a 38-centimetre propeller to a wooden frame, fashioned a throttle out of a brake handle and cable salvaged from a 10-speed bike, then added padded straps cut from a dollar store backpack. He laced up his skates, and suddenly Gibson was zipping along at speeds reaching 40 km/h. 

“I was actually getting a little scared at one point because I was going a little too fast,” the inventor admitted.

There are no brakes, but there is kill switch to cut the power “when something goes wrong,” said Gibson. “It’s actually a little finicky.”

This is not the first iteration of Gibson’s invention. As a teen, he built an electric propulsion device in his parents’ basement, though it never got to the testing phase.

“Ever since I was a kid … I’ve been taking apart things I found on the side of the road, making a mess of my parents basement, spreading electronics everywhere,” he said.

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‘It is frustrating’: U.S-educated nurse from Ottawa hits barriers to getting licensed in Ontario

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Before she accepted a swimming scholarship to attend Boston’s Northeastern University, Ottawa’s Rachael Geiger made sure it had the kind of nursing program she wanted. The school’s baccalaureate nursing program offered a fifth year of co-operative placement after four years of study — something Geiger thought would leave her well prepared for a career as a nurse when she returned home after university.

But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Two and a half years after graduating summa cum laude from Northeastern, the 25-year-old is unable to work as a registered nurse in Ontario.

Geiger said she was initially surprised, especially since she wrote the same licensing exam in Massachusetts as is written in Ontario, the NCLEX-RN exam. She is licensed to practise in Massachusetts and Illinois.

“I never thought it would be such a challenge.”

She and her family are frustrated at how difficult it has been for her to get registered to be able to practise in Ontario. That frustration is heightened by the fact that nurses have seldom been in such high demand in Canada and around the world as the COVID-19 pandemic strains health systems and shortages loom. Local hospitals are among those trying to recruit nurses. The Canadian Nurses Association has been warning that Canada will experience extreme shortages in coming years.

“It is frustrating to sit and see all the news about nursing shortages and not be able to help,” said Geiger.

Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the professional association that represents registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in the province, said she was “more than surprised” to hear of the difficulty Geiger has had.

But Grinspun, who initially studied nursing in Israel and then the U.S. before becoming one of the country’s nursing leaders, said the system of allowing foreign trained nurses to work in Ontario is unnecessarily slow and complicated and leads many valuable nurses to simply give up or find another career. Grinspun herself challenged the system when she first came to work in Ontario.

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