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Syrian refugees huddle in Lebanon: 30 people, one candle, and no food

One of 30 Syrian refugees sharing a tiny house says many charity workers have visited but never returned. They are among thousands displaced by a Syrian crackdown on a belt of towns near Lebanon.

By Correspondent / March 8, 2012

A Syrian child is seen with her family, who fled from the Syrian town of Qusair near Homs, at the Lebanese-Syrian border village of Qaa, eastern Lebanon, March 5. More than a thousand Syrian refugees have poured across the border into Lebanon, among them families with small children carrying only plastic bags filled with their belongings as they fled a regime hunting down its opponents.

Hussein Malla/AP

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Masharei al-Qaa, Lebanon

On a foggy late afternoon, Lebanon’s northern border with Syria is a gloomy and ominous landscape of flat stony fields and muddy tracks. The border here is marked by an earthen berm and a row of barbed wire. Beyond it lie verdant orange groves that provide cover for Syrians fleeing the violence in their homeland for the relative safety of Lebanon.

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A handful of shepherds, walnut-skinned elderly men wearing thick wool coats and sporting red and white checkered keffiyahs, watch over flocks of fat-tailed sheep. Little else stirs here.

In normal times, the Lebanese customs building on the main road at Qaa, six miles from the border, witnesses heavy daily traffic. The Qaa border crossing connects Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley with Homs, Syria’s third-largest city lying 22 miles north of the frontier. But few want to travel to Homs these days and the only vehicles on the arrow-straight road from the customs building are the odd tractor driven by a local Lebanese farmer and a few southbound minivans with Syrian plates and roofs piled with bags and suitcases to a perilous height.

A week ago, Jaafar, a Syrian laborer, his wife, and three children worked their way across this remote terrain, having escaped the besieged quarter of Bab Amr in Homs and successfully evaded the Army checkpoints and roaming squads of pro-regime militiamen to reach the Lebanese border.

Now, he and his family are among 30 people living in a tiny one-floor house on the edge of Jdeide village in the northern Bekaa, about eight miles farther south.

Jaafar sat huddled with several other Syrians in a sparsely furnished front room that was lined with blankets and bedding donated by a local charity. But they had little else.

“We have 18 blankets but 30 people in the house. There must have been 20 people from charities and organizations coming to see us, count[ing] how many we are and taking our names. But then they never come back and we have nothing, no food, no milk for the children,” he says.

Although they have a roof over their heads, the accommodation is not free. The house was rented to them for 200,000 Lebanese lira ($120) a month.

“It’s not the end of the month yet, but we don’t have any money. We don’t know how we are going to be able to pay the rent,” Jaafar says. “We don’t even have any diesel to fill the stove and keep us warm at night,” he says, indicating an oil-burning stove in the center of the room.

As if by cue, the electricity cuts out and the room plunges into darkness. After a moment fumbling in the dark, someone lights a thin candle and places it on the stove.

“This is the only heat we will have tonight,” Jaafar jokes grimly.

UN humanitarian chief given access to Bab Amr

The most recent influx of an estimated 2,000 refugees has occurred in the past week following the fall of Bab Amr after a monthlong siege by Syrian troops.

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