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
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.
“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 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.
“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,”
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.