News / Middle East

Syria Refugee Tide Rises as Strikes Loom

As Strikes Loom, Syria Refugee Tide Risesi
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September 05, 2013
The United Nations says more than 2 million people have now fled war in Syria. And as families await potential airstrikes from the United States, they are fleeing faster than ever. Heather Murdock reports for VOA on the fallout in Lebanon from villages in the Bekaa valley, near the Syrian border.
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Heather Murdock
— The United Nations said more than two million people have now fled war in Syria. And as families await potential airstrikes from the United States, they are fleeing faster than ever.

At this center in eastern Lebanon, Syrian refugees wait as workers unload bread for distribution.  Besam Kazah, who runs the center, said they depend almost entirely on private donations.  As the war drags on, he said, donations are getting smaller while the refugee population is getting bigger.
 
“I feel sorry because, see, we have here very serious problems.  Serious problems and nobody is taking care of them.  For example we have a lot of women, a lot of them, and they don’t have any support,” said Kazah.

Down the road, five Syrian families have moved into an abandoned building.   
 
The second floor is windy, with no windows or doors and the children play in rubble from fallen-down walls.
 
A woman, who fled Damascus, said the 16 children in the house are already cold.  It is still summer in Lebanon.
 
She said her family left their home last month because she and her husband were afraid the children would be killed.
 
But the woman and her neighbors said they are also afraid the limited resources for refugees in this area will not be enough to go around if people keep coming.
 
  • Khaled Roushdi goes door to door, identifying refugees' needs and tries to provide them with food, blankets and other necessities. He says the Bekaa Valley is "full" and he doesn't know how it can accommodate more people, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Sept. 4, 2013. Photo: H. Murdock/VOA 
  • Children wait with slips of paper entitling them to collect bread for their families, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Sept. 4, 2013. Photo: H. Murdock/VOA 
  • Syrian families come to centers like this one to get basic needs, like bread from aid workers who say they are in desperate need of donations, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Sept. 4, 2013. Photo: H. Murdock/VOA 
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon near the borders live in makeshift homes, or abandoned buildings, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Sept. 4, 2013. Photo: H. Murdock/VOA 
  • This family fled their home in Damascus last month and say they would rather live here in Lebanon, with no windows or doors to protect them from the wind than risk their lives in Syria, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Sept. 4, 2013. Photo: H. Murdock/VOA 
  • Besam Kazah collects food and blankets from donors for refugees, many of whom are friends or colleagues. He says many women who come to him for help have several children and no one to support them, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Sept. 4, 2013. Photo: H. Murdock/VOA 
  • Aid workers provide copies of the Quran for refugees that left home too fast to pack, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Sept. 4, 2013. Photo: H. Murdock/VOA 
Aid workers said newcomers have been pouring across the nearby border since U.S. President Barack Obama said he wants to send airstrikes to Syria to punish the regime for an alleged chemical weapons attack.
 
Khaled Roushdi is a businessman who has been going door to door finding out what families need, and trying to provide it.  He says families often come with only the clothes on their backs and need everything else, like food, blankets and cooking gas.
 
The villages he works in, he said, already have more refugees than residents and they are coming faster than ever.  He said if something doesn’t change, he doesn’t think aid workers will be able to keep up.
 
“That’s my fear," Roushdi said. "That’s my fear and we’re scared from that.  So you help, you help, you help, you help.  And after that, you cannot help.”

Khaled said officials have responded to the influx of refugees by refusing some people entry at the border for seemingly arbitrary reasons, like a tear in an identification card.
 
Refugees said they hope their relatives come soon before it gets even harder to cross. Ministers of Syria's neighbors officially promised this week they will not close their borders. But, along with the United Nations, they issued an urgent plea for more international help.

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