Humanitarians are “very concerned” about the plight of more than 64,000 people living in the restive Al Hol camp in northeast Syria, the UN Spokesperson told journalists on Friday.
Located in northeastern Syria, near the border with Iraq, 94 percent of the camp for the displaced, is made up of women and children who formerly lived in from territory held by the terrorist group ISIL.
In September last year, UN-appointed human rights investigators reported that conditions in the camp were “appalling” and “inhumane”, and called on the international community to take action to protect thousands of children from being left stateless, on the grounds that member states were seemingly unwilling to repatriate them, fearing extremist links.
“There are around 34,000 children under the age of 12 in Al Hol — more than 120 of them are unaccompanied or separated from their families and living in an interim care center in the camp,” said Stéphane Dujarric at Friday’s regular briefing.
Conditions in Al Hol are “difficult by any measure”, he acknowledged, adding that over the past month, “humanitarians have expressed alarm at the deteriorating security situation in the camp following a rise in violent incidents”.
‘A significant risk’
Moreover, four COVID-19 cases have been confirmed so far. “Testing is relatively limited, and a wider outbreak remains a significant risk,” Dujarric said, noting that while the UN and its humanitarian partners are providing “comprehensive assistance” to the camp, “this cannot be a substitute for durable solutions for all the residents”.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the coronavirus has prompted some health and education services in Al Hol to pause and also led to a reduction in the number of workers in the camp.
“COVID-19, with the resulting movement restrictions and quarantine measures, is making a critical situation even worse,” the Executive Director of UNICEF Henretta Fore, had said.
Over the course of the last two months, the UN spokesperson said that more than 1,000 people have reportedly left the camp.
“There have also been reports of plans by local authorities to expedite and increase departures of displaced Syrian families in the coming months,” he said.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Turkey to launch an immediate independent investigation into violations and abuses committed in parts of north, northwest and northeast Syria, which are under the control of its forces and affiliated armed groups.
“Any departures must be voluntary, safe, fully informed and dignified, and in the best interests of the children,” underscored Dujarric.
— UN News