Syria: Thousands of Foreign Children in Al Hol Camp Must be Repatriated Given Coronavirus Fears

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (May 10, 2020) – More than 7,000 children of foreign nationality continue to live in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions in al Hol camp in North East Syria amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak. More than a year has passed since the camp population grew following the battle against ISIS in North East Syria.

As governments evacuate their citizens stranded around the globe due to the pandemic, Save the Children is calling on all states whose nationals are trapped in Syria to take responsibility and repatriate them, given the potentially life-threatening danger children and their families face, Save the Children said in a new report.

A very low level of testing for coronavirus is currently taking place in North East Syria. Approximately 68,000 people – including Syrians and Iraqis as well as those of foreign nationality – live in Al Hol camp, of whom approximately 43,000 are children.

Shortages in the supply of water and electricity across the area, and regular cuts from the central water station that supplies the whole of Al Hol camp make it extremely challenging for people to implement best hygiene practises.

The population of Al Hol surged from around 10,000 at the start of 2019 to more than 73,000 people by May 2019 – a 680% increase. Severe overcrowding in the camp – and notably in the Annex where families of foreign nationalities with real or perceived ties to ISIS live – would make social distancing or self-isolation practically impossible in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.

Save the Children is gravely concerned about the impact of a coronavirus outbreak in Al Hol, where children with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions would be highly vulnerable[iv]. As a result of measures designed to stop the spread of the virus, children may also lose access to education and healthcare facilities, lose a caregiver, face malnutrition and further isolation.

“The desperate plight of all children living in limbo in Al Hol is even more alarming given the global pandemic the world is facing,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director. “Al Hol was never meant to host as many people as it currently does – especially the high number of children – and the consequences of a coronavirus outbreak there are unthinkable.”

“Children in the Annex are even more vulnerable as they have less access to aid, and support,” Khush continued. “As states evacuate their citizens in an attempt to safeguard them against the potentially deadly virus, we call on all countries of origin to safely repatriate the children of foreign nationalities and their families in line with their international obligations.”

Save the Children is calling on countries of origin to safely repatriate these children and their families, in line with their obligations set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Agreed international standards have established that access to support for rehabilitation is key to the recovery of these children and their families, access which is not currently available in displacement camps inside Syria. States should do everything possible to maintain family unity, and to provide the specialised protection, health, and other rehabilitative support that these children and their families will need upon their return.

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