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Winter brings more troubles for Syrians displaced by war

By KARIN LAUB Published: December 12, 2012

On Tuesday, Akkad and another doctor on duty stood side by side behind an exam table as mothers brought in their children. Akkad diagnosed a 5-month-old boy with bronchitis, while a nurse gave a shot to a crying toddler suffering from tonsillitis and diarrhea.

“The situation is really bad, winter is already here,” said camp manager Yakzan Shishakly, 34, who owns an air-conditioning business in Houston and returned to his native Syria last year to help victims of the civil war.

The number of Syrians driven from their homes by the fighting has risen steadily, and the U.N. refugee agency cited a new estimate by Syria's Red Crescent of some 2.5 million internally displaced, out of a population of 23 million.

Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the U.N. agency, said it's difficult to get an accurate count because some areas of Syria are off-limits to aid workers. The U.N. says about 2,000 schools in Syria are being used to house the displaced, while other people have found shelter with relatives. It's not clear how widespread tent camps like the one near Atmeh are.

In addition to the internally displaced, hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries. They include close to 510,000 people who have registered or are awaiting registration as refugees, mainly in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, along with tens of thousands who have not registered, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

Refugees crossing into Jordan after dark during heavy rains this week were fearful, freezing and without proper winter clothing, the U.N. agency said. It said 60 percent of the new arrivals in Jordan were under the age of 18, including 22 newborns arriving Sunday evening. The agency said it is distributing 50,000 thermal blankets in the largest camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

However, there was no sign of major international aid groups in the Atmeh camp, which started out a few months ago with refugees sleeping in olive groves after Turkey slowed the influx of newcomers, said Shishakly, the camp manager.

The Turkish Red Crescent has sent tents and distributes breakfast, he said, while he and his supporters buy drinking water and provide a daily warm meal. Another aid group, Medical Relief for Syria, runs the small clinic.