While the Christian world celebrates the birth of a baby in a stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, for the families herded into grim makeshift refugee camps along the Syrian-Turkish border, such accommodation currently represents unattainable luxury.

At least half a million Syrians have now registered with the UN after fleeing the civil war that has engulfed their country and their numbers are growing by around 3,000 every day. But while they are no longer threatened by the bombs and bullets of President Bashar al-Assad's army, many now fear they could freeze to death. Dressed in thin clothes, they shiver in damp flimsy tents as temperatures drops. With no electricity or running water and little food, this is a humanitarian disaster in the making.

Without an international invasion, for which there is little appetite, little can be done for the 2.5m Syrians estimated to be displaced within their own country. As the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the country's main aid provider, is controlled by the Syrian government, those identified with the rebels are likely to be in desperate need. However, more could and should be done for those seeking sanctuary in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The numbers pouring out of Syria suggest that nobody believes this war will end any time soon. Jordan, an already desperately poor country, is struggling to cope. While the US has pledged $100m, the response of the international community has been too slow.

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Initially the response of Turkey, which is far wealthier, was more organised but it is now being overwhelmed by the daily influx. Both countries fear the crisis will bring internal instability. The international community may be unable to staunch Assad's bloodletting and unwilling to step in or arm the rebels, given the fear of what could replace his regime, but it could be doing much more to support neighbouring countries that are struggling to cope with the human fallout.