‘Miracle’ in the snow

A group of Syrians survived 7 years of war, only to freeze to death on a mountain. Yet one little girl was found alive, lying in the snow. The doctors wondered: Who was she?

The mountain range that forms a natural boundary between Syria and Lebanon has long served also as a wartime conduit for people who cannot travel legally — the gunrunners, the rebels, the dissidents and the ordinary citizens who just want to escape.

On one night last month, it became a death trap. A storm whipped up at the moment a group of about 70 Syrian refugees was climbing over the mountain to try to reach Lebanon.

In the darkness, wind and snow, they began to falter. The elderly fell behind. Children tripped. Men slipped. Unable to see their guide, the refugees became lost and scattered.

One small group became so tired that they decided to lie down on the cold, hard ground and go to sleep.

By daybreak, 15 people had frozen to death, a sad new milestone in the tragedy of Syria’s seven-year-old war. Refugees have drowned trying to reach Europe and are regularly shot on the Turkish border. But this was the first known instance of a group dying of cold, according to the United Nations refugee agency and Lebanese authorities.

It was also a reminder of the continued desperate efforts of Syrians to escape the fighting, even as the world closes its doors. The United States and Europe are not alone in restricting the entry of Syrians — Syria’s neighbors also long ago shut their borders to refugees. For those still fleeing to Lebanon, which is hosting about a million Syrian refugees, the only way in is across one of the mountain smuggling routes

The fate of these recent refugees first came to light after rescue workers posted photographs on Facebook, offering clues to the horrors of the night. Three adults and a child lay rigidly alongside one another. A boy was crouched beside a wall.

text by Liz Sly