Human Rights

Syria's al-Hol camp 'difficult place for children'

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut


Children are seen inside Syria's al-Hol camp, where at least 70,000 people reside. UNICEF estimates more than 90% of them are children and women. [Photo courtesy of UNICEF]

The UN children's fund (UNICEF) has appealed for additional support to help it provide humanitarian aid and services to more than 70,000 residents of al-Hol displacement camp in north-east Syria.

The agency said it is working with partners and donors to "provide children with immediate life-saving assistance" and appealed for $9 million to continue its support for children and families in the camp and scale up its operations.

In a mid-July report, UNICEF estimated that more than 90% of the residents of the al-Hasakeh province camp were women and children, with most of the children under the age of 12.

Nearly 20,000 of these children are Syrian, and the remaining 29,000 hail from 62 different countries, including 9,000 from Iraq, the report said.


Children at al-Hol displacement camp in Syria’s al-Hasakeh province receive education services provided by UNICEF. [Photo courtesy of UNICEF]

Children in al-Hol camp, which is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), require urgent care and protection, UNICEF said.

"Thousands of boys and girls in al-Hol have never had a chance to simply be children," said UNICEF representative in Syria Fran Equiza.

"These are children. They deserve utmost care, protection, attention and services. After years of violence, they are unwanted, stigmatised by their local communities or shunned by their governments," he said.

Although the number of people arriving at al-Hol has declined, humanitarian needs remain critical, including access to safe water and health services.

"We are working with partners and donors to provide children with immediate lifesaving assistance," Equiza said.

But much more needs to be done to continue to provide children with basic services and protection, he said, "including reintegration into their local communities and safe return to their home countries".

Interim care for children

A large number of the children at al-Hol are unaccompanied, UNICEF child protection officer Sherin Murad Ismail told Al-Mashareq.

"We housed them in interim care centres and searched for their parents inside and outside the camp," she said, adding that 214 children have been reunited with their families.

While the children’s situation has improved since their arrival "owing to the services they received from us and our partners", they remain in need of additional health and food services, she said.

UNICEF works with other organisations to provide and distribute safe drinking water and water for domestic use, and has installed latrines and bathing facilities, she said.

It provides the camp population with health, food and primary care services, treats malnutrition cases and provides preventive care at health clinics and through mobile medical teams, in addition to child-friendly spaces, she added.

The agency recently distributed more than 45,000 summer clothing items, Ismail said, adding that this effort will continue until each child in the camp has received clothing.

It also is continuing to conduct vaccination drives on a regular basis in co-operation with the World Health Organisation (WHO), she said.

Psycho-social support is being provided for children who lived under the rule of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), Ismail said, and recreational activities are being provided to the camp's children.

But families and children at al-Hol face a multitude of challenges that include restrictions on the movement of those without identity documents, who are prohibited from leaving the camp, she said.

High heat, harsh conditions

Before their arrival at al-Hol, most children "were living under very harsh conditions, and only a few of them had access to health services", UNICEF media official Salam al-Janabi told Al-Mashareq.

But since they began to arrive at the camp in December 2018, "some of them have received most of the basic vaccines needed to protect them from childhood diseases, and the vaccination drives continue", he said.

A quick nutrition examination performed on children in May revealed "acute malnutrition rates among children under the age of 5", he said, adding that given their living conditions in the camp, they remain at risk.

As temperatures rose in June, "the number of reported cases of diarrhea surged, however no fatalities were recorded", he added.

"The number of reported deaths among children and adults dropped in the first two months of 2019," al-Janabi said, according to the WHO.

The high temperatures in the summer and the general living conditions in the camp "increase the strain on the children’s health", he said.

"So, we make sure that water fit to drink is delivered daily to everyone by tanker trucks and the water is purified once again at a water purification unit in the camp," he added.

Al-Hol camp "continues to be a very difficult place for children, as there are not enough safe spaces for all of them to play and learn", he added.

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