UNICEF-supported facilitators work around the clock to provide lifesaving assistance in Al-Hol camp

UNICEF and humanitarians partner in al-Hol are still preparing for an estimated 15,000 new arrivals

Masoud Hasen and Yasmine Saker
Workers attending to families and children
UNICEF/Syria/2019

02 April 2019

Hassakeh, Syria 28 March 2019 –  The lights of trucks approaching Al-Hol camp can be seen from far away on the horizon of Syria’s north-eastern desert. The trucks arrive packed with women and children fleeing the fighting in Baghouz, almost 300km away, covered in dust and huddled together for warmth. 

Keeping an eye for the truck lights is Salih Al-Shiba, one of UNICEF’s health and nutrition facilitators deployed to Al-Hol camp to ensure children are provided with assistance immediately upon arrival regardless what time of day or night they arrive.

 

Health worker assisting a child
UNICEF/Syria/2019
UNICEF health and nutrition facilitator, Salih Al-Shiba, screens a newly arrived child at Al-Hol camp for signs of malnutrition.

“Our room is near the reception area at the camp. This way we can immediately meet the families when they arrive to identify any critical cases that need on-the-spot referral to the nearby hospital.”

Salih Al-Shiba, UNICEF’s health and nutrition facilitator

 

Salih travels four times a week to Al-Hol from his home in Qamishli, around 100km away. When there is news of possible new arrivals he and other UNICEF facilitators stay for two or three nights to keep an eye on the children as they arrive and support the mobile health and protection teams.

 

 

Worker hands supplies to a child
UNICEF/Syria/2019
UNICEF health and nutrition facilitator, Salih Al-Shiba, had blankets to a newly arrived child at Al-Hol camp during one of his night shifts.

“I will never forget this one-night last month when I found a mother with her three children sitting out in the open under the pouring rain and the desert’s freezing temperatures,”

Salih Al-Shiba, UNICEF’s health and nutrition facilitator

 

“The mother was overwhelmed and distressed. Not sure what to do. I drove them immediately to the large collective tent and found them a safe place and blankets.”

Arsen Wartan, another of UNICEF’s facilitators on the 24/7 rotation in Al-Hol, was in the camp when more than 3,000 people arrived on the same day. “The families arrive utterly exhausted and shivering from the cold,” says Arsen.

 

 

Workers attending to families and children
UNICEF/Syria/2019
UNICEF facilitator Arsen Wartan walks through a collective tent at the reception area of Al-Hol camp to make sure no emergency cases are in need of urgent medical attention.

“With so many arriving at the same time, some of them had to sleep in the trucks until shelter was secured for them in the overcrowded camp.”

Arsen Wartan, UNICEF’s facilitator

 

Lack of available space in the camp is one of the largest concerns as the camp population continues to increase. Many new arrivals are sheltering in large communal tents and several of UNICEF’s education and child-friendly-space tents have been temporarily repurposed for shelter. As of last week, no new arrivals were staying in the open. However, with additional people on the way, more space and shelter are urgently needed.

With large numbers of third country nationals arriving, UNICEF also ensured that there are facilitators available to translate between foreign patients and the health teams.

Khorshid Hasan accompanies the mobile medical teams in Al-Hol to help overcome language barriers. “Last week we came upon a 4-year-old with an acute asthma attack who we were able to transfer to the hospital by explaining to his mother how referrals work and that her child will be accompanied by a trusted adult at all times,” recalls Khorshid.

But being the facilitator who speaks a foreign language also means that he is sometimes the bearer of sad news.

 

 

Workers attend to families at night
UNICEF/Syria/2019
UNICEF facilitator Khorshid Hasan talks to newly arrived women at Al-Hol camp.

“Over the past weeks I’ve had to deliver the sad news of the death of six children who were being treated for different conditions at the Hassakeh hospital. These were some of the most painful moments I have been through. I will always be heartbroken for the mothers.”

Khorshid Hasan, UNICEF’s facilitator

 

Having endured years of deteriorating humanitarian conditions, followed by a difficult displacement north, many children and women arrive distressed, fatigued, and malnourished. And despite all efforts, as of last week, 138 deaths have been reported either on the way to the camp, shortly after arriving or after referral for treatment in nearby hospitals - over 80 per cent were children. The main causes are identified as pneumonia, hypothermia, dehydration, severe diarrhoea or complications from malnutrition.

While the last few days have seen a slow-down in arrivals, UNICEF and humanitarians partner in al-Hol are still preparing for an estimated 15,000 new arrivals. The needs at Al-Hol camp remain urgent, not only to scale up assistance to new potential arrivals but also to sustain assistance efforts in the coming months.


 

As families continue to flee violence in Hajin, UNICEF has scaled up its response in Al-Hol camp and is supporting children and families in reception centres and the camp itself, providing much-needed 24/7 healthcare and immunization services through mobile and fixed health clinics, including screening children for malnutrition and common illnesses, providing necessary nutritional supplements and referring cases to hospitals in Hassakeh. UNICEF also supports families at Al-Hol through the provision of safe drinking water, the establishment of latrines, shower units and water tanks, the distribution of hygiene items, blankets and winter clothes for children and the establishment of self-learning centres and child and adolescent friendly spaces, where children engage in psychosocial support to help them cope with their situation. A communal temporary shelter for new arrivals has been set up along with an interim care center for unaccompanied and separated children.