AN ANXIOUS eight-year-old boy running around looking for his mother is among the vulnerable residents of a camp in Syria whose “heartbreaking” stories were told by the Red Cross this week.
In the last week of February, 13,000 people arrived at the Al-Hol camp in Al-Hasakah Governorate, in north-east Syria, after fleeing fighting in the last Islamic State (IS) stronghold in Deir ez-Zor Governorate, the UN reports. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that hundreds of IS militants had surrendered as they left the enclave.
Since December, 45,000 people have arrived at the camp, of whom 90 per cent are women and children.
“Many of them have arrived exhausted, hungry, and sick,” a UN spokesman, Jens Laerke, said on Friday of last week. “Those who are fleeing have told us of a desperate situation for civilians in the area they are fleeing from. It’s affected by hostilities — civilians are being killed and injured on a daily basis — there’s large-scale destruction of civilian infrastructure, and shortages of food, medicine, and other basic necessities.”
As of 3 March, 90 people, mainly children under five, have died either on their way or shortly after arriving at the camp, mainly owing to hypothermia, pneumonia, dehydration, or malnutrition complications. To date, 175 children have been hospitalised because of complications from severe acute malnutrition.
“While the comparatively smaller number of foreign fighters and their families have received the most international attention, let’s also remember that tens of thousands of Syrian residents in the camps need immediate aid,” the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC’s) delegation in Syria, Philip Spoerri, said on Monday. “A stream of new arrivals has pushed the camp far over capacity. The nights are biting. More than two dozen children are reported to have died due to the cold in recent weeks.”
The ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent is serving up to 6500 meals a day. Women and children were arriving “sleepless, hungry, cold, and show signs of shock”, its report said. “Each wave of new arrivals seems to be in worse condition than the one before.”
The UN reports that 99 unaccompanied children have been identified en route or in the camp; 23 have been united with their families.
Among the “heartbreaking stories” told by the ICRC was that of an “anxious eight-year-old boy [who] has been running around Al-Hol camp looking for his mother. We offered him food from the ICRC-SARC community kitchen, but he refused to take it, and told us that he did not want anything but his mother. He sat down with both his hands under his chin and he covered his face.”
A teenage girl was found taking care of an infant found in the rubble of a building. “She is sick and weak. She doesn’t talk or walk much,” the teenager said. “Her parents were killed in a bombing. No one knows anything about her family. No one knows her real name.”