Eight children die in less than one week at Syria's al-Hol camp

This rate is far above normal in the camp for Islamic State-affiliated families, where there are recent reports of escapes and COVID-19 cases.

al-monitor A picture taken on Oct. 17, 2019, shows children playing at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp for the displaced where families of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters are held, in the al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria.  Photo by Photo by DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images.

Aug 13, 2020

Eight children died in al-Hol camp for Islamic State (IS) families in northeast Syria in less than one week. This is far above the normal rate in the camp where people lack basic services and may now be contending with an outbreak of the coronavirus.

The children were under 5 years of age and died between Aug. 6-10. Four died from complications related to malnutrition, while the others died from “dehydration from diarrhea, heart failure, internal bleeding and hypoglycemia,” the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, known as UNICEF, said in a press release.

“Any child’s death is tragic. It is even more so when the death could have been averted,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore in the release.

Al-Hol hosts more than 65,000 people with varying allegiances to IS. Most of the camp’s residents are women and children. There are Syrian, Iraqi and foreign sections of the camp. Many residents were wives and children of IS fighters. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are in charge of security. The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria administers al-Hol along with much of northeast Syria.

Humanitarian organizations have long warned about poor living conditions in al-Hol. Many living there lack access to water and other hygiene materials, making them susceptible to the coronavirus. Much of the tent city is without cooling systems in the summer heat. Al-Hol is in a desert part of Syria close to the Iraqi border. Some health and education services have paused recently due to virus-related concerns, according to UNICEF.

The death rate of children under 5 per week was 2.5 for the first half of 2020, according to Save the Children, one of the humanitarian organizations working in al-Hol. Eight kids dying in five days is thus a substantial increase.

The children’s deaths coincide with other bleak news on the health situation in al-Hol. Save the Children reported that an al-Hol resident tested positive for COVID-19 this week. A spokesperson for the organization later told Al-Monitor that the reliability of the test is not known, but it showed positive. UN and Autonomous Administration officials told Al-Monitor last week that three local health care workers in the camp also contracted the virus. The health care workers were the first people to be confirmed to have the virus in the camp.

The quality of coronavirus testing varies in Syria. The World Health Organization works with the Syrian government, and the main testing centers are located in government territory far from Autonomous Administration-controlled areas.

The Qamishli-based research organization Rojava Information Center, which uses the Kurdish name for the region, said on Wednesday that COVID-19 is “believed to be widespread” in northeast Syria now, but there is a shortage of testing kits.

Camp officials are also contending with escapes. In July, Turkish intelligence helped a Moldovan family break out of al-Hol.

Anti-SDF channels on the encrypted messaging app Telegram claim the group is conducting arrests and violence against al-Hol residents. The SDF completed an identification campaign of al-Hol residents in June.

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