Syrian refugees fight for survival in "Dead Cities"

(CBS News) They're called the Dead Cities -- a string of ancient villages abandoned by the Romans 1,500 years ago. Now these ruins are a refuge for the wounded and the homeless of Syria's civil war.

Locals told us thousands now live in caves underneath the ruins. The thick walls are the only protection from the government's relentless bombing campaign.

Clarissa Ward interviews members of a family of 11 who are living in a cramped cave
Clarissa Ward interviews members of a family of 11 who are living in a cramped cave in the "Dead Cities" to escape the government bombardment.
CBS

Life underground is grim. These caves provide security, but not comfort. The air in here is dank and musty, there's a lot of smoke from the cooking, and it's very difficult to keep places like this clean.

Khadija and her seven children fled their village of Kafr Rourma five months ago under heavy bombardment from government forces.

"We were so afraid," she said. "The children were screaming and screaming."

Their few possessions are painful reminders of everything left behind.

"A few days after we left, a missile hit our house," she said. "We've lost everything. We're terrified here."

There's no help. Food is scarce and medical care is nonexistent.

Watch: Clarissa Ward reports on Syrian regime dropping parachute bombs, killing indiscriminately, below.

Im Youssef's only shelter is a tarp. She was frantic with worry about her sick son, who lay motionless.

"He doesn't move," she said. "He just sleeps."

We asked if she had any medicine.

"There's no doctor," she said. "And my husband has no job. We have nothing."

But for now, these ruins are the best refuge -- a place for the living in the city of the dead.

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The refugees told us they had no idea when they would be able to go home or whether they would even have a home to go to.

While we were there, we could hear the steady thump of artillery. These people are literally spending their days listening to the sound of their villages being destroyed.

What is most striking is that -- having visited many conflict zones around the world -- you simply don't see tents from the United Nations or blankets from USAID or bags of flour from the World Food Program. There's no sign that any international aid is making it to these people.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News

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