Disease and harsh conditions have claimed the lives of
about 90 people - two-thirds of them children under the age of 5 -
who wanted to reach a refugee camp in north-eastern Syria, a UN
agency reported on Tuesday.
They were fleeing the village of Baghuz, the last stronghold of the Islamic State group in eastern Syria. The main causes of death were "hypothermia, pneumonia, dehydration or malnutrition complications," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.
As of March 3, 90 people have died, either en route; shortly after arriving at the camp; or after referral for treatment, the UN agency said. Between February 22 and March 1, about 15,000 people reached al-Hol camp from Baghuz, where the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been battling Islamic State militants.
OCHA said that the al-Hol camp population stands at 56,002 individuals, of whom more than 90 per cent are women and children. Some children are arriving at the camp without their parents. The al-Hol camp has been receiving internally displaced persons fleeing the area around eastern Euphrates, where SDF have been waging battles to uproot the Islamic State group from its last remaining pockets in eastern Syria.
Many of those displaced had walked for days or travelled in open trucks until they reached the areas controlled by the US-backed forces. According to activists in the area, refugees had to spend several nights in the open air before they are given a tent to stay in al-Hol camp. Fadwa Baroud, a UN spokesperson in Damascus, told dpa that the UN in Syria, non-governmental organization partner groups and relevant authorities are providing life-saving assistance and services to all new arrivals.
"This includes around the clock emergency health and protection assistance, with all new arrivals receiving food, water, shelter, and warm clothes and blankets," she said. "The most pressing needs for those displaced remain shelter, water and sanitation hygiene, health and protection, with physical and psychological health, particularly vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children and elderly people," Baroud added.
International agencies have called for additional financial resources to meet the extensive needs at al-Hol camp. The spokesperson of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria, Adnan Hezam, described the situation inside the camp as "tragic." "People are stressed and tired," he said, adding that new arrivals are in worse condition than the ones who arrived earlier. He added that the camp is housing more people than for which it has capacity, and more arrivals are expected. "Our teams are giving all the care for all refugees arriving, women, elderly and children in the camp, but of course we have great concern for children who are arriving without their parents," he added.
Syria's Kurdish-led forces resumed their operation to capture Baghuz on Friday, after a lull in fighting to evacuate civilians and family members of Islamic State from the area. Thousands of civilians and family members of Islamic State militants have been evacuated from the village.
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