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In Pictures: Trial and hardship for Syria's female refugees

The number of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war who have registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey has almost tripled since April, 2012, and now stands at 120,000. The actual number of refugees is thought to be as much as 10 times that, as many people register only when they run out of resources. Three-quarters are women and children. In Lebanon, the refugees are scattered around the small villages close to the border. Most of them live in isolated farm sheds, stables or makeshift tents, surviving on food rations delivered sporadically by local NGOs or by working as field labourers, with no assistance provided by the Lebanese government. Wary of the Hezbollah and secret-service agents allied with the Assad regime who constantly look for “dissidents” in Lebanon, they live a secluded life, as isolated as possible from the local people, without the comfort of their friends. Resigned to the fact that they might have to settle for a long time in a country that doesn't want them, they speak with sorrow and nostalgia about a Syria that many fear will never be the same again, no matter the outcome of the current crisis. Their names have been changed for security reasons. Writer Matteo Fagotto and photographer Matilde Gattoni report from the Lebanese-Syrian border.

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Zaynab, 16. comes from Al-Khaldeeye, in Homs. She fled with her family three months ago, after the Army repeatedly knocked at her house to look for her father. An honour student, Zaynab was prevented to attend the lessons after some soldiers kidnapped, raped and killed some of her schoolmates in January. Despite the difficulties of living in Lebanon, she feels that victory for the revolutionaries is very close, and she is confident she will go back to Syria soon. “When it all started I expected it to be swift and quick, like in Egypt. But Assad is a hard head, and has powerful international allies,” she explains. Zaynab is taking care of her father and her siblings who are all mentally disabled. When asked what is it that she misses the most from home, Zaynab replied: “The smell of Homs”

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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Nour, a 5-year-old girl from Al Qusayr, a city in a mountainous region in western Syria, escaped the country last month with her mother and brothers after having lived for three months in an undeground cave, away from the shellings. She is now hosted in Jdeideh by a Lebanese family. Nour is still psychologically traumatized by the war and everytime she hears the door bell ring or someone knocks, she starts panicking and crying thinking that the Syrian Army is here to retrieve her.

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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Mona, a 27-year-old mother, arrived in Lebanon from Qusayr three months ago with her husband and two small kids, after her brother-in-law, a member of the Free Syrian Army, was killed. A former Arabic teacher, Mona now spends most of her day at home looking after his kids and waiting for the fall of the Syrian regime. “The war will leave big scars in the country,” she says. “This bloodshed will always remain in the mind of the people.”

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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Aziza, 35, is a Turkmen Syrian from Qusayr in western Syria. She fled her home country two months ago, after her husband and her sister-in-law (whose kids she is now raising) were both killed by sniper fire while going to the souq (market). She constantly goes back to Qusayr to check on her father, whose health is deteriorating fast. In the meantime, she lives in Jdeideh in a makeshift tent camp on the outskirts of a Lebanese village in the Bekaa Valley, where she picks apricots to survive. She gets paid less than $5 for seven hours of work per day.

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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Najiba, 63, comes from the village of Soran, North of Hama. She arrived in Lebanon eleven months ago, after the first protests erupted in Hama. “The Army was shooting at everyone, I remember seeing 50 or 60 people dead,” she says. She now lives in a concrete shed, in an orchard on the outskirts of Jdeideh, Lebanon. In exchange of looking after the trees, she can stay for free. “I would go back to Syria tomorrow, if it wasn't for the kids. I am very worried about their safety,” she explains, pointing at the four grandchildren she lives with.

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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Rasha, a 27-year-old mother with two kids, comes from Soran. She arrived in Soran on March 1 to flee the heavy fighting between rebels and security forces. Apart from her husband and kids, the rest of her family is still in Syria, but Rasha would like to settle in Lebanon and not go back. One of her brothers is serving in the Army, and she is concerned he might get killed by the Free Syrian Army in her village. She is not confident about the future of her country. “As a Syrian, personally, I don't know what freedom is‚” she says.

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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Latifah, 42, comes from Zahra, where she used to live a comfortable life before the revolution started. Her husband was managing a transport company, but the vehicles got stuck and destroyed four months ago, after the village came under heavy shelling during clashes between the Syrian forces and the Free Syrian Army. “At that time we used to sleep under the trees and go back to the houses during the day, for fear of being hit‚” she remembers. Her family now lives in a concrete shed on a rugged terrain, infested with insects, scorpions and snakes.

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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Samira, 28, came from Hama almost three months ago, together with her four kids. She had to change five cars and bribe her way through the military checkpoints up to the Lebanese border. It cost her $400, four times the average monthly wage of her husband. She now lives in Tripoli. “I miss the soil of Syria, the land,” she explains, before bursting into tears. “We live in misery here. The kids don't go to school, and everytime my husband is late I become hysterical, fearing that he might have been stopped at a checkpoint and sent back to Syria.”

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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Somaya, 56, comes from Talbiseh, a small town on the outskirts of Homs. Seven months ago, her 31-year-old son Ali was arrested by masked men soldiers during a raid in her house. Three days later, his severely tortured body was found in a nearby sewage ditch. “He had a huge wound in the stomach, one of his arms was broken and both kneecaps had been removed‚” she recounts. She now lives in Lebanon with two of her remaining sons, who work as labourers in the nearby fields.

Matilde Gattoni/Matilde Gattoni

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