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Syrian Refugees Flood Lebanon to Escape Civil War

ABC NewsBy Bob Woodruff

(NEW YORK) -- With no safe haven, more than 1,200 Syrian refugees pour into Lebanon daily. Most of them are mothers and children with no idea where they will live. Because there are no refugee camps in Lebanon, the government is concerned that could create a long-term crisis.

One family of 20 from Homs had waited all day to cross at the Syrian-Lebanon border, while another woman said they would stay in Lebanon as long as the situation was bad in Syria.

“We have nothing. We will live with what we can,” she said. “I think we will build a tent and live there.”

The parents’ only worry: keeping their children safe no matter where they ended up.

In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, families lived anywhere they could.

Aid workers from Save the Children tell ABC News there are refugees living in an abandoned prison. At the former jail, a woman who spoke English told ABC News that five people lived in one cell.

She said that she’d been an English teacher in Damascus; her husband, a banker. Their beautiful home was destroyed in Syria and now she lives in a small cell.

The former prison is now home to more than 60 children. There are bars on the windows and bare cement floors — stark reminders that they are no longer home.

Hamid, 10, saw his neighborhood bombed by President Bashar Assad’s forces. Dead bodies littered the streets.

“I want to see my dad,” he told ABC News.

Another little girl nodded when asked whether she missed her father as well. It has been months since these children have seen their dads.

More than half of the refugees in this crisis are children, according to the United Nations. Many of them have been out of school for nearly two years.

Programs like Save the Children have stepped in to fill some of the need. Save the Children told ABC News that $20 could purchase an entire student kit including pencils, paper and a backpack — everything they need for a school that the organization has set up nearby.

“We are teaching them the basics so they don’t fall behind,” one teacher said.

Funding is limited and only 550 children are able to receive services there. Thousands still wait. For a little more money, a child can get clothes and shoes.

When night falls, the families struggle to stay warm in the dark. It is so cold that families have to cook inside their tents.

Two days ago, 17 of the tents burned to the ground. The families lost everything: clothes, food, blankets, pictures, all of their documents.

“Yes, everything,” one man said. “I can’t even provide for my children....I can’t even buy them a toy if I want. I have nothing to offer them.”

The nights are long and with limited electricity, the families must turn in early. Many of the children are sick. They cough as they go to bed. In the morning, the coughing only gets worse.

Many suffer from respiratory infections and are struggling because of the smoke from the stoves. Despite freezing temperatures, they have only thin clothing and sandals. There is a real need for more food and fuel for cooking, and warmer clothing, including shoes.

Everyone told ABC News that they missed their homes, their families and their ways of life. They are without money and cannot afford phones.

In the former prison, the ABC News crew lent the mothers cellphones so they could call their families in Syria. It had been months since they’d spoken with their relatives.

The sound of “Hello” over the phone line and the smiles that followed said everything.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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