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Press Release

Al Hol camp at ‘breaking point’ as another 12,000 women and children arrive in just 48 hours

  • Child deaths – at least 100 deaths, nearly all children, recorded en route or after arriving at camp, but could only be the tip of the iceberg. More than 100 unaccompanied children have arrived at Al Hol.
  • Health crisis – hundreds of children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and local hospitals are overwhelmed treating trauma injuries. More funding is urgently needed.
  • No shelter – around 5,000 family tents needed to house latest influx.

An incredible 12,000 women and children have arrived from ISIS-controlled Baghuz in Eastern Syria to Al Hol camp since Wednesday morning, bringing the total population of the camp to over 65,000. Around 4,000 arrived last night adding to the 2,000 that arrived earlier yesterday. More than 55,000 people have arrived at Al Hol since the beginning of December.

There is now a huge shortage of family tents at Al Hol camp, with around 5,000 needed to properly shelter all the new arrivals. Al Hol camp is regularly seeing heavy rain and very low temperatures at night, and to prevent further deaths it is vital the latest arrivals are provided with shelter. The IRC is handing out 800 heaters to families that have recently arrived.

Misty Buswell, International Rescue Committee’s Middle East Advocacy Director, said: “The IRC and other agencies are doing all they can to help the new arrivals, but Al Hol camp is now at a breaking point. No one could have guessed that such a large number of women and children were still living in Baghuz. There is now an urgent need for thousands more family tents to get to Al Hol to help shelter the latest arrivals, as well as increased funding to support the health crisis unfolding at the camp.”

At least 100 people, overwhelmingly children, have died en route to al Hol camp or soon after arriving. Two-thirds of the deaths are babies and infants under 5 years old. However, it is unknown how many children may have died earlier in the journey.

Misty Buswell said: “We have seen a staggering number of children die on the journey to Al Hol camp due to a combination of malnutrition and hypothermia. Unfortunately, this figure could be the tip of the iceberg as we’ve been told some children also died as people crossed the desert to escape Baghuz and were buried before they even began the journey to Al Hol.”

Many of those arriving at Al Hol camp on the back of trucks are in extremely poor health. There have been hundreds of cases of severe acute malnutrition, including 220 children who needed to be transferred to a local hospital for treatment. There have also been more than 600 cases of acute diarrhea, including 364 infants under the age of five, which can be life-threatening. More than 500 people, most of them children, with the skin disease leishmaniasis have arrived at Al Hol camp since December. The disease is spread through sand flies and can be permanently disfiguring.

Many of the women arriving at the camp are either heavily pregnant or have recently given birth. There have been cases of women giving birth in the back of the trucks headed for Al Hol, and in recent days the IRC has helped deliver babies of women who went into labor on the journey. The IRC clinic at Al Hol supports many of these cases but there is an urgent need for more comprehensive maternity care at the camp, especially to deal with complicated cases.

We are also seeing a large number of people arriving with shrapnel injuries in need of immediate surgery. Local hospitals have been overwhelmed and currently are supporting 100 trauma cases and have no choice but to discharge patients before they have fully recovered.

Misty Buswell said “IRC teams are doing all they can to identify the most urgent cases to prevent further deaths at Al Hol camp, making sure infants receive emergency nutritional supplements and arranging for ambulances to transfer wounded women and children to local hospitals. The IRC is currently supporting a ten-year-old child at our health clinic in desperate need of a skin graft after being badly burnt by a missile strike at Baghuz.”

More than 240 unaccompanied children have arrived at Al Hol camp since early December. At the reception area of the camp, IRC protection teams look out for any children who may have been separated from their families during the journey or who are alone because their family were killed in Baghuz. Where possible the IRC and other agencies are helping ensure children can be reunited with their families.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.