By Samuel Burke, CNN
More than half of those fleeing for their lives in Syria are children. Some arrive with their families, while others are war orphans who arrive alone.
The numbers are exploding. Turkey says 100,000 refugees have now flooded that country and the government says it cannot build camps fast enough to house the vast numbers.
Human rights groups say right now at least 15,000 Syrian refugees are stranded at the border. Turkey won't let them across, leaving them as sitting ducks for Bashar al-Assad's artillery and his air force.
Turkey isn’t alone – tens of thousands of other refugees are flowing into Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan – countries with even fewer resources to deal with them.
UNHCR says there are some 300,000 Syrian refugees in those bordering countries.
Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF, has just seen the refugee crisis first-hand; and he claims these figures are low. He says those are just registered refugees, but that there are likely many more who haven’t registered. UNHCR says these figures could more than double by the end of this year, to some 700,000 refugees.
Lake, who also served as Bill Clinton’s U.S. national security adviser, says it’s not just the refugee camps straining the resources of Syria’s neighbors. The refugees are moving into the cities, which is putting pressure on the schools and health care in those communities.
Lake says “more and more you’re seeing the population in Jordan and Lebanon saying, ‘Wait a minute; this is inflationary; competition for jobs. Maybe we shouldn't be taking so many more.’”
Many of the refugees left during the warmer months and now winter looms over them.
“By December, the temperatures could get down to around zero and all they have are the wrong clothes for winter.” Lake says UNICEF is working to bring in prefabricated buildings to help shield from the coming cold weather.
In Jordan, Lake visited refugee camps and the schools on the premises which he says serve a double function: an education and a sense of normality for the children.
“Oddly enough, I came away both appalled, because the children and their parents are in really dire straits,” he says. “But at the same time, if you look at the children's faces, those kids are in makeshift school, wanting to learn. I always come away inspired by how tough and resilient these kids are. And if they're that tough and strong and courageous, then we [too] should be in our support for them.”
But the ethnic divisions are coming out even within the groups of children – some are teenagers who describe being tortured by the Assad regime.
A 15-year-old refugee recounted to Save the Children how he, along with hundreds of others, had been taken to a school in Syria. "They hung me up from the ceiling by my wrists,” he said. “Then I was beaten. I passed out from the severe pain. And then they took turns stubbing out their cigarettes on me." He's talking about the Assad forces in Syria.
“It's very disturbing when you hear that,” Lake says. “But you can fix it by bringing them back to something more close to a normal life and teaching them something about the need to reconcile with others.”
Right now Lake says the looming threat is what will happen Syria’s neighbors can no longer accept refugees.
“If that happens, it could be a human tragedy even bigger than we face now.”
CNN’s Claire Calzonetti produced this piece for television.