Unwanted, exploited and abused: Tens of thousands of children in Al-Hol camp and several parts of Syria in limbo amid dire humanitarian needs

UNICEF calls for improved humanitarian access and protection of children including re-integration into local communities and safe return to home countries

17 July 2019

DAMASCUS, 17 July 2019 — Taking cover from the sun at the entrance of a tent, 14-year-old Afraa, originally from Iraq, waits for her two younger siblings to be examined.

“It took us nine days to arrive to Al-Hol from Baghouz… I don’t know what will happen to us,” she says.

At least 70,000 people live in Al-Hol Camp, northeast of Syria. UNICEF estimates that more than 90 per cent of them are children and women. Nearly 20,000 of the children are Syrians. The rest, 29,000, come from 62 different countries, including 20,000 from Iraq.  Most are under the age of 12. These children are highly vulnerable, they are the survivors of heavy fighting and have witnessed unimaginable atrocities.

The children in Al-Hol are facing a dire humanitarian situation and for many, this is further compounded by the recent experience of having been abused or forced to fight and carry out acts of extreme violence. These children make up only a fraction of a much larger group of children allegedly associated with armed conflict; stranded in camps, detention centres and orphanages across Syria and especially in the northeast. Some, as young as 12, are reportedly being detained. They continue to be at huge risk while violence heavily escalates. In the northwest province of Idlib, nearly 1 million children have been trapped for months on end amid heavy fighting. Their fate and future also hang in the balance.

Children in Al-Hol camp now require care and protection, and also rely on urgent life-saving assistance, especially as summer temperatures soar.

“Thousands of boys and girls in Al-Hol have never had a chance to simply be children. These are children. They deserve utmost care, protection, attention and services. After years of violence, they are unwanted, stigmatized by their local communities or shunned by their governments,” said UNICEF Representative in Syria Fran Equiza, after a visit to Al-Hol camp last week.

Despite violence winding down in the area and amid a decrease in the influx of people arriving to Al-Hol, humanitarian needs remain critical including access to safe water and health services.

“We are working with partners and donors to provide children with immediate lifesaving assistance. This is a drop in the ocean. Much more needs to be done to continue providing children with basic services and protection including reintegration into their local communities and safe return to their home countries,” added Equiza.

UNICEF reminds all concerned that these are children, not perpetrators. They have the right to be safeguarded, including legal documentation and family reunification.  UNICEF is calling for the following immediate actions:

  • On all the member states involved; in line with the best interests of the child and in full compliance with international legal standards: take full responsibility for the reintegration of children into their local communities and the safe repatriation of children back to their countries.  
  • For all parties to the conflict in Syria and those who have influence over them: to facilitate unconditional humanitarian access to, and inside Al-Hol, and everywhere in Syria to reach every child in need wherever they are.

With partners, UNICEF continues to respond to the needs in Al-Hol:

  • Over the past months, at least 520 unaccompanied or separated children were identified, 214 of whom have been reunified with family members, while 74 children are hosted in interim care centres.
  • UNICEF is supporting learning spaces at the camp serving 3,000 students, in addition to child-friendly spaces and mobile child protection teams; reaching nearly 12,000 children with recreational activities, psychosocial support, case management, and special care for separated and unaccompanied children.
  • Since the beginning of the year, UNICEF and WHO-supported mobile health and nutrition teams have been providing vaccination and nutrition services to children in the camp through fixed facilities and mobile teams.
  • On a daily basis, UNICEF and partners are providing nearly 1.7 million litres of safe drinking water and 750,000 litres of water for domestic use. As water consumption rises during the summer, securing sufficient water quantities to cover the increase in demand will continue to pose a challenge.
  • More than 1,280 latrines have been installed.
  • UNICEF is appealing for US$9 million to continue providing assistance and support to children and families in the camp and scale up operations to meet the needs.

Media contacts

Juliette Touma
Tel: +962 79 867 4628
Joe English
Tel: +1 917 893 0692

Additional resources

A woman vaccinates a child, Syria

Additional materials for media


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook