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Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon have been hit by a fierce winter storm, the UN say.

There has been snow, rain, high winds and freezing temperatures in the north of the country and the Bekaa Valley, home to more than 200 informal camps.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was “working harder than ever” to protect the more than 800,000 Syrians sheltering in Lebanon.

The Lebanese army is helping distribute emergency kits, including blankets.

“We are worried, because it is really cold in the Bekaa region, and we’re extremely worried about the refugees living in makeshift shelters, because many are really substandard,” UNHCR spokeswomen Lisa Abou Khaled told the AFP news agency.

At least 80,000 refugees will have to spend the winter in tents. Many others are living in unfinished or unheated buildings with only slightly more protection.

Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon have been hit by a fierce winter storm

Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon have been hit by a fierce winter storm

Lisa Abou Khaled said the UNHCR had stockpiles of items to help refugees whose shelters might be damaged or destroyed, including plastic sheeting, floor mats, blankets and mattresses. Supplies have also been given to local councils.

“The Syrian refugees here are shivering with cold, especially the ones in tents,” said Wafiq Khalaf, a councilor in Arsal, a town in the northern Bekaa Valley that has seen 20,000 people arrive in the past few months.

“Water has come into the tents from the roofs, and from the ground where there is flooding,” he told AFP.

“At the moment there is more than 10cm [3.9in] of snow on the ground, but more is expected.”

Forecasters are predicting between 7.6cm and 13cm of snow in total.

The latest warning comes after the UNHCR announced on Tuesday that it would be airlifting food and other aid items into northern Syria from Iraq for the first time.

Twelve planeloads of supplies will be flown in over the next few days, ahead of what the UN fears will be the region’s harshest winter in a century.

The decision was made after land convoys were shot at, harassed, and detained at check points, officials said.

Almost 2.3 million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, according to the UN. There are also an estimated 6.5 million internelly displaced people (IDP’s) inside Syria, and many more in need of aid.

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Italy has decided to hold a state funeral for the hundreds of migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa last Thursday.

PM Enrico Letta made the announcement during a visit to the island with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Jose Manuel Barroso pledged 30 million euros ($40 million) of EU funds to help refugees in Italy.

At least 274 people, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, died in the wreck.

Of more than 500 people on board, only 155 have survived. Divers are recovering bodies.

It is one of Italy’s worst disasters involving a boat carrying Europe-bound migrants from Africa.

Lampedusa is a key destination for such boats and many residents have long complained that the authorities in Italy and the European Union are not doing enough to deal with the thousands of migrants who come ashore each year.

Jose Manuel Barroso and Enrico Letta visited the temporary mortuary holding the coffins of the victims and met survivors and those who had helped in the rescue.

The two men were heckled on their arrival in Lampedusa, with shouts of “disgrace” and “killers”.

Italy will hold a state funeral for the migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa

Italy will hold a state funeral for the migrants who died after their boat capsized close to the island of Lampedusa

Speaking at a joint news conference, Jose Manuel Barroso said he would never forget the sight of hundreds of coffins.

“It’s something, I think, one cannot forget: coffins of babies, coffins of a mother and a child that was born at that moment,” he said.

“This is something that profoundly shocked me.”

Jose Manuel Barroso said he also met survivors who had retained hope, and it was now the duty of the EU “to give reason for that hope”.

He said 30 million euros would help Italy to settle its refugees, and listed a range of measures the EU must undertake including focusing their efforts on the people smugglers and the countries where most of the migrants are coming from.

Jose Manuel Barroso also said the EU parliament would be voting on a plan to launch Mediterranean-wide search and rescue patrols to intercept migrant boats.

The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstroem, said on Tuesday she had asked the EU’s Frontex border agency to draw up a “concrete proposal” for an operation that would allow better tracking, identification and rescue of migrant boats.

Frontex currently helps Italy to intercept migrant boats, but the two EU operations in the southern Mediterranean have limited resources – a total of four ships, two helicopters and two planes.

PM Enrico Letta said a great human drama was unfolding on Lampedusa and pledged to put the issue of migration at the centre of the EU agenda.

The two were met upon their arrival in Lampedusa by a small group of activists and local residents who shouted “shame”, “disgrace” and “killers” at the airport gates.

“They should be ashamed of themselves. They should solve this humanitarian problem,” one protester was quoted by Agence France-Presse news agency as saying.

The 66ft boat that sank last Thursday with more than 500 migrants on board had set off from Libya and was close to Lampedusa when, according to survivors, the engine failed.

In order to attract attention from passing boats, a small fire was lit which caused the passengers to panic and move towards one side of the boat which led to the capsizing, the survivors said.

Divers said they found dozens of bodies entwined together in the hull of the boat which lies about 155ft below the surface of the sea.

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