Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

386 children in have died in Syria's Al Hol camp since January, says monitor

The camp for women and children who lived under ISIS is overcrowded and aid agencies lack resources

An internal security patrol escorts women, reportedly wives of ISIS fighters, in the Al Hol camp in eastern Syria. AFP
An internal security patrol escorts women, reportedly wives of ISIS fighters, in the Al Hol camp in eastern Syria. AFP

Poor healthcare provisions and lack of food have contributed to the deaths of 386 children in northern Syria’s Al Hol camp for families of suspected ISIS supporters since January, according to a monitor.

The overcrowded camp, run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab alliance, was established for those who either fled the group's final stretch of territory in Syria or who were captured in the final weeks of the military campaign against the group that concluded in March.

The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the toll on Wednesday, saying that poor conditions at the camp were largely responsible. The site currently holds nearly 80,000 women, children and elderly people.

In April, US-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria announced the fall of ISIS’s last stretch of their once-sprawling state project.

However, tens of thousands of people surrendered during the final push and while military-aged men were taken to Kurdish prisons, the women, children and elderly were moved to camps like Al Hol.

Aid agencies have warned of dire conditions and the Kurdish forces have said they cannot cope with the scale of the issue. They have called on countries to repatriate their nationals to ease the burden.

Insecurity is also a pressing issue. Guards have been stabbed, stones thrown at aid workers and the black flag of ISIS has been flown in plain sight. Reports suggest the wives and children of the 'caliphate' are sticking by the group’s ideology despite being stuck in the desperate Syrian camp.

“As a result of the poor living conditions, the shortage of medicines and food and the acute shortage of medical care caused by the failure of international organizations, at least 386 children under the age of 18 have died between the beginning of January this year and Sunday, July 21,” the observatory said.

Nationals of dozens of countries were reported to have lost children, including the UK, Belgium, India and others.

Earlier this year, Shamima Begum – a British schoolgirl who ran away from home in 2015 to join ISIS with friends – spoke to the media from Al Hol camp. She said she wanted to return home with her children, including a new-born.

However, then UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid moved to revoke her citizenship to prevent her from going back to the UK. On March 8, it was reported that her youngest child had died of pneumonia.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the situation in Al Hol was stretched beyond capacity and that as well as poor living conditions people had also been killed in fights – both with security forces and each other.

Meanwhile, in Idlib province on Wednesday, regime air raids hit the outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun and helicopters dropped barrel bombs on several towns in the north of Hama province.

The regime and Russia have been pounding the last rebel-held enclave in Syria for 93 straight days as Damascus seeks to consolidate gains elsewhere in the country.

However, the government offensive has made little progress into the region and most gains have been quickly reversed by the rebels.

Ms Bachelet, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, last week said at least 450 civilians had been killed since the regime offensive on Idlib began in April.

Updated: July 31, 2019 08:12 PM

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