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Syrian refugees face brutal winter with inadequate shelter and food

From Nick Paton Walsh, CNN
December 4, 2012 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Living under shelling is better than the life here," one refugee says
  • More than 10,000 refugees have flooded a Lebanese town of 27,000
  • Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to neighboring countries
  • Save the Children: Some are confined to leaky tents in refugee camps

Arsal, Lebanon (CNN) -- The Syrians who walked 18 hours to seek refuge in Lebanon have escaped the fear of government attack. But with the brutal winter closing in, some would rather go back home to warfare.

"Living under shelling is better than the life here. It is cold here and we don't have the things we need," one girl said from a ramshackle home in Arsal. "We all sleep next to one another, but we are not warm at night. We have nothing."

Lebanon has been absorbing thousands of refugees for nearly two years. And the relentless violence in Syria has sent more civilians fleeing across the border.

Obama warns al-Assad against chemical weapons

In Arsal alone, more than 10,000 refugees have flooded the town of 27,000.

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
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Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos
Children fight for food in Aleppo
Blair: Assad 'indifferent' to civilians
No defenses against chemical weapons

"It was a very difficult decision to leave my home. I never wanted to -- ever," one woman from suburban Damascus said. The missiles and cluster bombs, however, left her no choice but to flee Syria, she said.

But the massive influx of Syrians in Lebanon has strained resources. A local administration office is running out of makeshift homes and heating fuel for refugees.

Some must now live in places where the only source of heat is a small outdoor fire for cooking.

The refugee crisis isn't limited to Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing their country's bloodshed have escaped to Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

Thousands of children remain without adequate shelter or are out in the cold, according to a new report by Save the Children.

Photos: The Syrian conflict through children's eyes

Some refugees are staying in apartments they can no longer afford, while others are confined to refugee camps, living in leaky tents, the group said. Even worse, many cannot afford basic food supplies or medicine for sick children.

"The appeal for humanitarian relief inside Syria is 50% funded, while the refugee response is only 51% funded," Save the Children said. It reported a current aid shortfall of $200 million.

In Jordan, it is illegal for refugees to work, so some families are going into deep debt to keep their children alive over the winter, the group said.

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A 46-year-old refugee in Lebanon described the plight of his family, who has spent the past year living in an old sheep shed.

"I cry in my heart. I feel depressed. It's unjust. Is there a worse way to live than this?" the refugee, identified as Ahmed, told Save the Children.

"Our situation is terrible to the maximum. We didn't expect there were humans who could live the way we are living."

CNN's Holly Yan contributed to this report.

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