GENEVA - U.N. officials are expressing dismay and alarm at the recent deaths of eight children under the age of five in al-Hol Camp, northeastern Syria, where tens of thousands of displaced from the conflict with the Islamic State Group are housed.
The children, who died between August 6 and 10, reportedly suffered from a range of treatable illnesses. The causes of death include malnutrition-related complications, dehydration from diarrhea, heart failure, internal bleeding and hypoglycemia.
Spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, tells VOA the conditions under which the children are forced to live are potentially dangerous and unacceptable.
“Nearly 40,000 children from more than 60 countries continue to languish in al-Hol camp. They lack access to basic services and have to contend with the sweltering summer heat and the trauma of violence and displacement,” he said.
Al-Hol camp, which is run by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, holds around 74,000 women and children displaced by the battle with Islamic State militants. Most are from Syria and Iraq, but more than 7,000 reportedly are from foreign countries.
These governments are reluctant to take back their nationals claiming they have been radicalized by IS and pose a potential threat to their home countries.
Laerke says U.N. aid agencies continue to provide a range of critical relief, such as shelter, food and hygiene, nutrition and protection. But he notes access to basic services, including regular water supply and emergency healthcare has been in short supply in recent months for a variety of reasons. These include disruption to water supply from the Alouk water station and COVID-19 precautionary measures.
“The tragic deaths have occurred at a time when health services at the camp are under increased pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "Since the beginning of August, five health workers at Al Hol camp have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the temporary closure of one field hospital and disruptions to another, amid growing shortages of Protective Personal Equipment.”
Syria reportedly has more than 1,330 cases of coronavirus, including 58 deaths. Laerke says measures must be strengthened to safeguard and protect health care workers from this deadly disease as the virus continues to rapidly spread across the country.