ARBAT, IRAQ — As the conflict in Syria approaches its second anniversary, the number of refugees crossing into Iraq continues to rise. The United Nations and international relief groups are no longer able to provide aid to Syrian families who are facing dire winter conditions in flimsy, ill-equipped camps.
Freezing rain falls on the Arbat Refugee Camp in northern Iraq, more than 400 kilometers from the Syrian border. In the past five months, more than 500 Syrian refugees have traveled to this ad hoc camp in the middle of a bean field.
The children who are not playing outside in the mud try to stay warm by burning refuse found in an abandoned sheep barn.
Fuaz Akil is an ethnic Kurd from the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. He's living with his family of 10 in a tent donated by the semi-autonomous Kurdish government of northern Iraq.
"We didn't come here for pleasure. We're suffering. Our house was destroyed. We lost everything. We came here because this is Kurdistan and these are our people," he said. "But still we are suffering. We're not living in this tent for fun. We had our own house. We had our own car. Our own tractor."
With more than 80,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, the U.N. and other international agencies aren't supplying essentials to those crossing the border.
Tents, toilets, and food have been donated by the local government or by local charities.
Fatma Moussa, also a Kurd, traveled nearly a thousand kilometers from Aleppo after her house was destroyed by a rocket.
"It was the middle of the night when we left Aleppo. We were driven to Hasaka and then to the Iraqi border. It was snowing and I had to carry my son on my back," she said.
As the rain falls, children dart between shelters, trying to stay dry.
With the conflict in Syria showing no signs of abating, these refugees will continue to suffer through a harsh winter in the foothills of Iraq.