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No Safe Place: Uncertainty for Syrian Child Refugees as Winter Approaches

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Ten-year-old Raed is scared. Recently, he ran away to hide. The lightning reminded him of all the sounds of bombing he heard when he was back in Syria.

"Even the fireworks scare him every time there is a wedding ceremony in town," said Raed's mother, Leila*, who fled the violence in Syria with her family six months ago. "I cannot go anywhere because [my children] want me to be by their side all the time. Even when we are sleeping, my youngest child wants to sleep in my arms."

In Lebanon, where Raed's family has settled, there are an estimated 100,000 Syrian refugees, approximately 60,000 of whom are children. A number that keeps growing every day.

"Every minute in Syria posed a threat to the lives of my family," says Ahmad*, Raed's father. "Massacres happened in front of our eyes. I had to get them out of there."

Their house in Syria was bombed leaving nothing but rubble, forcing them to finally make the decision to leave their country.

Now Raed's family rents a space in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon for $40 a month: a quasi-garage, smaller than 20 square meters. The walls are made of old bricks barely pasted to each other. It is just two rooms, with a small bathroom and no kitchen. Everything they own is either on the floor or the one shelf they have. But now this shelter is all Ahmad, his children and seven additional relatives have to call "home."

As we visit, the first rains of the season have found their way through the cracks in the walls. Every item in Raed's shelter was wet: The dirty torn sheets decorating the walls, the thick mattresses on which the family members are sleeping, even the summer clothes that Raed was still wearing, because he does not have anything warmer to put on.

The little boy's pride forbid him from admitting he was cold, but crossing his hands on his belly and raising his shoulders occasionally, his body said otherwise.

"The boys don't even have a jacket," says Leila. "Our neighbor today brought a cap for my youngest daughter. May God bless them, but that is [all we have]."

With no heating available whatsoever, damp and cold weather endangers the health of Raed and his siblings, between the ages of 3 and 13.

The winter season is less than two months away, and the Bekaa area, where Raed and his family are currently staying, is one of the coldest in Lebanon. Winters are often cold and snowy, with an average temperature around freezing.

But despite the cold, Raed is most sad about the school he left behind. One of his memories was his school in Syria being bombed just minutes after he and his peers had left their class.

"My school was big and had blue walls," remembers Raed. He never had the chance to see it again after the bombing.

His only reminder of school is the geography book he brought with him from Syria. It is his most precious procession away from his real home. He flips through its pages every now and then and dreams that one day he will return with it to his home to finish his education.

*All names of adults in the story have been changed.

World Vision is helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon by providing hygiene kits and food vouchers and operating children friendly centers that offer informal education and psychosocial support. World Vision aims to help an additional 6,100 families survive the winter by providing blankets, clothes, stoves and fuel.