GENEVA - U.N. officials are expressing alarm over worsening security at Northeast Syria’s al-Hol refugee camp after multiple killings between January 1 and 16.
Fears for the safety and protection of camp residents and humanitarian workers are growing following the killings of 12 Syrian and Iraqi residents, including one female Iraqi refugee. Another person was critically injured during a violent attack.
Al-Hol, which is controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, is the largest camp for refugees and Syrians who have fled their homes, with nearly 62,000 residents. Most are women and children of Syrian and Iraqi origin. They fled to the camp after a U.S.-led coalition ousted Islamic State militants from their stronghold in the northern city of Raqqa in 2018.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs laments the tragic loss of life in al- Hol. OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says the recent rise in violence also threatens the security and the ability of aid workers to provide crucial assistance to the residents.
“What they are delivering is primary health care, water, shelter, nonfood items, food and hygiene distribution, nutrition and protection. All of that delivery is being thrown into jeopardy when the level of insecurity rises to what we have seen now,” he said.
UNICEF says 14% of camp residents are women and children from 60 countries. They include family members of former IS fighters, as well as their supporters and victims. They are being kept in a separate, guarded section for their safety.
Laerke says foreign governments are reluctant to repatriate their nationals because of their relationship with the former militants. He says the U.N. is calling on governments to treat the many thousands of children trapped in al-Hol as children and do what is in their best interest.
“I do not think anybody can be in doubt that it is not in their best interest to be stuck in this camp for years on end. So, repatriation of not least particularly children would be most welcome," he said.
U.N. officials say the safety and well-being of people at al-Hol is of utmost importance. They urge greater protection for the camp residents and for humanitarian workers. They note the current situation is not sustainable and durable solutions for all people in the camp must be found.