A woman loses her children, her husband and both legs. A penniless family is forced to flee from Syria back to Iraq. Camps are overflowing with people and with bitterness, and refugees are living in limbo without passports.
As war rages in Syria, the stream of refugees into other countries shows no sign of stopping. More than 100,000 people fled Syria in August alone — about 40 percent of all who had left since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began last March. And the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday that the number of people escaping Syria could reach 700,000 by the end of the year.
Here, AP reporters tell the stories of refugees and their families from four countries.
TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Hasna Um Abdou lost her children, her husband and both legs to a mortar.
Now the veiled 38-year-old woman lies in a hospital bed in this northern Lebanese city, with the Quran, the Muslim holy book, on her table. She talks slowly, with pauses, and is visibly trying to hold back the tears. Abdul-Aziz, 3, and Talin, 13 months, were her only children.
"Every time I remember, I feel the pain," she says.
Um Abdou is one of thousands of Syrians who have been wounded in the uprising against Assad and its aftermath. Hundreds of the wounded have been taken for treatment in neighboring countries, mostly to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. More than 74,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon, itself a small country of just 4 million people that is struggling with instability.
Um Abdou and her family fled their village in Homs province in March amid intense shelling, to a second village and then a third. Two days later, it seemed quiet, and they decided to return home. The family rode back on March 31 on a motorcycle, with Um Abdou's daughter asleep in her arms and her son sitting in front of his father.
Then her world fell apart.
Um Abdou keeps hearing the sound not of the mortar, but of the terror.
"I cannot forget the noise of the hearts beating quickly as people gathered around us," she says.
Her daughter died immediately from a shrapnel wound in the head. Her son bled profusely and died minutes later, even as she looked at him. She did not want her husband to know the children were dead, so she said nothing and started to pray.
But her husband was severely injured too -- the shrapnel had blown out his intestines. And Um Abdou looked down to find her own legs hanging slightly from her body.
"The moment I saw myself, I knew that my legs were going to be amputated," she says.
She and her husband were rushed to makeshift hospitals in the Syrian border towns of Qusair and Jousi. With the help of Syrian rebels, she was carried on a stretcher all the way across the border to Lebanon, amid 12 hours of shelling and shooting. Her husband died en route.
Um Abdou's children are now buried in a plot of land in Syria owned by the state. Her husband was buried in the cemetery in Jousi because it was too dangerous to take him back to his hometown.
"Even the dead have no right to be buried," she says.
Um Abdou has undergone four operations in Lebanon, including the two amputations. Her parents and sisters are looking after her, and she displays the green, red, white and black flag of the Syrian revolution in her room.
She knows the pain will be unbearable the day she goes back to Syria and visits the place where her family is buried. In the meantime, she has written a poem in the hospital.
"I lost my children and husband, but my soul is still strong," it reads. "I will keep saying until my last breath, long live freedom."
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The gang of masked gunmen broke into the small apartment near Damascus where Waleed Mohammed Abdul-Wahid and his family had lived for nearly three years. "Are you Sunni or Shiite?" they shouted, as his three children began to cry.
"We are Sunnis!" answered his wife, Wasan Malouki Khalaf.
"Do you know any Shiites who are cooperating with the Syrian government?" the gunmen demanded.
"We do not know any such people," she said. "We are from Baghdad."
The gunmen left. The brief but terrifying invasion sealed the decision Abdul-Wahid had been mulling for weeks: to leave behind an increasingly violent life in Syria and return to Iraq.
More than 2,200,000 people fled Iraq during the war and sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and almost half of them ended up in neighboring Syria. Now Syria is plagued with the same sectarian conflict, and many of the same people are on the run a second time. At least 22,000 Iraqi refugees are thought to have left Syria to return to Iraq, despite the dangers they thought they had left behind.
Abdul-Wahid had worked as a deliveryman back in Baghdad, bringing cylinders of cooking gas to both Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods. Militants kidnapped him outside his Sunni-dominated neighborhood of Azimiyah in 2009 and tortured him for four days. His arms still show the burn scars.
The family packed up and fled to Syria, where they built a new life in a mostly Shiite suburb. The children settled down in school, and the United Nations gave them food and an income. Abdul-Wahid, 49, found a job in construction and started taking medication for the severe depression he had suffered after the kidnapping.
Then the uprising against Assad began, and violence returned to Abdul-Wahid's life. Mortars bombarded their neighborhood, and snipers shot at people in the streets. The last straw was the gunmen storming their home in late July, and asking his daughter if she was Sunni or Shiite.
"She did not reply, because she does not know the meaning of such a question," Abdul-Wahid says.
The bus fare from Damascus to Baghdad cost about $110 for each person. Abdul-Wahid had to ask his brother for money, he says, his eyes filling up with tears of sadness and shame. His family is living in a room in his brother's house.
"I have lost everything now," he says. "I am jobless and penniless...I am even afraid of going outside my brother's house. Now, I have to start from zero."
He plans to go back to Syria when — or if — the violence ebbs. Wasan, his wife, says the shortages of electricity and water in Iraq are unbearable, as is the lack of good medical care, security and jobs.
But Abdul-Wahid is doubtful the violence will end any time soon, or Assad will be ousted from power.
"I think that the armed struggle in Syria will continue for a long time," he says. "He is clinging to power...I think that he will survive."
ZAATARI, Jordan — At this Syrian refugee camp opened in the desert just two months ago, anger sizzles in the scorching sun.
It is anger at being crowded with about 32,000 other people onto a parched, treeless strip of land, where the day is too hot and the night is too cold. But it is also a murderous anger among the Sunni Muslims here against the Shiites back home, whom they blame for the war. Many Sunnis oppose Assad's ruling regime, which is Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
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