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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

UN, humanitarians reiterate concerns for thousands still in 'inhumane' Al-Hol camp in Syria

Some 68,000 people live in the Al-Hol camp [Getty/ Archive]

Date of publication: 17 October, 2020

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Humanitarian groups and the UN have 'expressed alarm at the deteriorating security situation' in the sprawling tent city of Al-Hol.

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Syria, al-Hol.
Humanitarian aid groups and UN officials have reiterated concerns about the safety of tens of thousands of displaced people still languishing in the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

The camp, located in northeastern Syria, is occupied predominantly by women and children who lived in territory formerly held by the Islamic State [IS] group.

"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 centre in the camp," Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said at a weekly briefing on Friday.

Conditions in the camp remain "difficult by any measure", Dujarric added, highlighting that "humanitarians have expressed alarm at the deteriorating security situation in the camp following a rise in violent incidents".

Some 68,000 people – including Syrians and Iraqis as well as other foreign nationals – live in Al-Hol camp. Nearly two-thirds, approximately 43,000, are children.

After years of spearheading the fight against IS with backing from a US-led international coalition, Syria's Kurds hold thousands of foreigners suspected of supporting the extremist group in their custody.

These include alleged fighters in jails, but also thousands more women and children related to them in displacement camps - many in the sprawling tent city of Al-Hol. 

Aid groups have repeatedly deplored living conditions in the camp where more than half of its inhabitants are under the age of five, and Kurdish authorities reported the first coronavirus case among residents in late August.

Local officials have also reported several incidents of IS followers attacking guards or aid workers in Al-Hol in recent months, or attempting to escape. 

Last year, UN-appointed investigators reported "appalling" and "inhumane" conditions in the camp, and urged the international community protect the camp's thousands of children from being left stateless.

Read also: Australian women, children 'abducted' from Syria refugee camp: reports

With winter fast approaching and the Covid-19 pandemic seeing a resurgence in many parts of the world, the situation in the camp looks set to worsen.

Four Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Al-Hol so far, according to the UN. 

"Testing is relatively limited, and a wider outbreak remains a significant risk," Dujarric said, adding that the UN and its partners' aid programmes in the camp "cannot be a substitute for durable solutions for all the residents". 

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