News / Middle East

Syrian Refugees Face Bleak Winter

Syrian Refugees Face Bleak Winteri
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James Brooke
December 15, 2012
Almost two years of fighting in Syria has forced more than half a million Syrians to flee to safety in neighboring countries - Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the largest number, more than 150,000, are in Lebanon. VOA's James Brooke reports from Aanjar, Lebanon - only a 30-minute drive - in normal times -- from Damascus, the war-torn capital of Syria.
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— Almost two years of fighting in Syria has forced more than half a million Syrians to flee to safety in neighboring countries - Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the largest number, more than 150,000, are in Lebanon. 

Snow already covers the peaks of the scenic Mount Lebanon range. But down below, in a truck parking lot here, the Khalid family has no money to buy kerosene to heat their new home - a converted tool shed.

As nighttime temperatures fall to freezing, this family of Syrian refugees huddles 15 in one room, trying to sleep. Um Khalid, the family matriarch, said their choice is between food or heat.

Harrowing Escape

Syrian Refugees by Country

Jordan 448,370
Lebanon 455,665
Turkey 324,770
Iraq 142,395
Egypt  62,032

Source: UNHCR
She said the family spent almost all their money escaping from Damascus, only 50 kilometers east of here.

She cradles her two-week-old granddaughter, Nimar. The baby was born just before a shell destroyed her family’s house in a Damascus suburb. Although Nimar's mother had a Caesarean, she had to walk for two days in their journey to Lebanon.

Abo Khalid, Nimar’s father, stands on crutches. He said he was shot in the leg by Syrian government troops.

The Khalids are part of a steady exodus of Syrians fleeing increased fighting around Damascus, a city with a peacetime population of 1.7 million people. At Lebanon’s border control checkpoint here, cars with Syrian license plates wait in long lines. Drivers stand for hours in a crowded passport control office, waiting to get their families stamped into Lebanon.

In town, refugees crowd outside a local Islamic charity that distributes mattresses, blankets, rugs and soap.

One man, Mahmoud, said he fled Syria with his wife and two daughters after government troops massacred people in a nearby village.

Syrian children

He said the U.N. refugee relief agency gives families $31 per person per month. But this money goes for food and rent, leaving nothing left over for heating fuel.

Easily half of Syria’s refugees are children. The lucky ones find seats in this crowded school.

But Deeb Abdel Khalik, director of the school and of the distribution center, worries about the human consequences of a full-fledged battle for Damascus. He knows that the first destination for refugees will be this already overburdened Lebanese border town.

He fears that a massive dislocation of hundreds of thousands of people could come at the hardest time of year - winter.

James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

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