Skip to main content

Children living in 'open air prison' at Syria's Al-Hol camp: MSF

Al-Hol camp in Syria: children make up 64 percent of the Kurdish-run camp's population, and half are younger than 12, according to MSF
— Beirut (AFP)

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Monday deplored the fate of thousands of children living in "a giant open air prison" at Syria's notorious Al-Hol camp.

Al-Hol is the largest camp for displaced people who fled after Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged Islamic State group fighters from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.

In the country's northeast near Iraq, Al-Hol is overpopulated with more than 50,000 residents including relatives of suspected jihadists, displaced Syrians, and Iraqi refugees.

Children make up 64 percent of the Kurdish-run camp's population, and half are younger than 12, according to MSF.

"We have seen and heard many tragic stories", the aid agency's Syria operations manager, Martine Flokstra, said.

In a report, MSF cited Al-Hol's lack of health care and incidents of violence, warning of the dangerous situation facing children.

Some died "as a result of prolonged delays in accessing urgent medical care," and there are stories of "young boys reportedly forcibly removed from their mothers once they reach around 11 years old, never to be seen again," Flokstra said.

Many of the camp's child detainees were born there and are "robbed of their childhoods, and condemned to a life exposed to violence and exploitation, with no education, limited medical support and no hope in sight," she added.

The report mentions the case of a five-year-old boy hit by a truck and who died after waiting several hours for hospitalisation.

Members of the Syrian Kurdish Asayish security forces inspect tents at Al-Hol : the camp is overpopulated with more than 50,000 residents including relatives of suspected jihadists, displaced Syrians, and Iraqi refugees

In 2021, 79 children lost their lives, MSF said.

Some were killed in violence, including shootings inside the camp where attacks on guards or aid workers are common. The majority of camp deaths are crime related.

Among Al-Hol's detainees are more than 10,000 foreigners from dozens of countries.

Housed in a separate part of the camp called "the Annex", MSF considers these foreign nationals the responsibility of their home countries which it said have failed in their obligations to repatriate them.

"Insufficient progress is being made to close the camp," Flokstra said.

Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded camps.

But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.

Last month, four women and 13 children were repatriated to Australia from Al-Hol and another camp.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Free

The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.

Free

What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing
Expert

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to pro.support@al-monitor.com and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial