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UNICEF Alarmed by Spike in Children’s Deaths in Syria’s al-Hol Camp


FILE - Syrian refugee children play together, as Lebanon extends a lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a Syrian refugee camp in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 7, 2020.

United Nations officials are expressing concern over the deaths of more children in a refugee camp in northeastern Syria.

UNICEF said on Wednesday it has received reports of a 15-year-old boy killed in al-Hol camp this week, two weeks after a 16-year-old was shot and killed.

Al-Hol, which is home 62,000 people, including thousands of families of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters, has seen an increase in killings among its population in recent weeks.

“The security situation in the camp is alarming with the reported killings of 40 adults and two children since the start of the year — 16 of them during March alone,” Bo Viktor Nylund, UNICEF representative in Syria, said in a statement Wednesday.

Nylund urged “the authorities in charge of the camp to secure the safety of children and all residents in the camp.”

Al-Hol is run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military alliance that has been a major U.S. partner in the fight against IS.

FILE - Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are pictured during preparations to join the front against Turkish forces, near the northern Syrian town of Hasakeh, Oct. 10, 2019.
FILE - Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are pictured during preparations to join the front against Turkish forces, near the northern Syrian town of Hasakeh, Oct. 10, 2019.

Sheikhmous Ahmed, head of the Refugee Affairs Office at the SDF-affiliated Autonomous Administration in North and East of Syria, said Tuesday’s killing took place at a school inside the camp.

“The boy, who was a Syrian national, was stabbed by a knife while he was at school,” Ahmed told VOA in a phone interview. “Our security forces in the camp are now investigating the incident.”

He attributed the recent increase in violence in the camp to growing activity by IS cells inside and outside the facility.

“At night, the camp is virtually under their control, and much of the violence occurs then,” Ahmed said. “It is a massive camp, and our security forces are under-resourced to keep it under control the entire time.”

Nylund said the violence highlights the urgent need for longer term solutions for children in the camp.

“Syrian children should be safely reintegrated into their local communities, and foreign children should be repatriated to their countries of origin in a safe and dignified way,” he said.

But local officials said immediate action is needed to protect the children.

“In addition to the daily violence against them, we also see many children getting radicalized by their parents, some of whom still have Daesh’s extremist ideology,” Ahmed said, using an Arabic name for IS.

“What is much needed right now is a major rehabilitation center that is capable of accommodating these kids, away from the toxic environment inside al-Hol,” he suggested.

The SDF has in the past released some Syrians, including children, from the camp. Several countries also have taken back some of their citizens, including women and children.

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