14 March 2019 - occupied Palestinian territory

Number of foreign children in North-East Syria camps up almost 45% in less than a month

There are now estimated to be at least 3,580 children of foreign nationalities living in three camps for displaced people in North-East Syria, Save the Children revealed today.

This is an increase of almost 45 per cent from a previous mid-February estimate of 2,500, as the offensive against the last ISIS-held enclave intensified in recent weeks.

At least 56,000 people have been displaced in the last three months, both Syrians and families from other nationalities, mostly Iraqis, overwhelming the al-Hol camp where people are being transferred.

Malnutrition and infectious diseases are particular concerns for young children – at least 75 children under the age of 5 are now reported to have died on their way to the camp or upon arrival, most from hypothermia, pneumonia, and hunger-related illnesses.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, said: 

“Children, particularly young children, are coming out of the last ISIS-held areas in absolutely desperate conditions. Many are starved, sick and emotionally distressed from what they have been through. In the overcrowded displacement camps, their lives are still at risk from infectious diseases, cold and hunger.

“The international community must step up its response to ensure we can meet families’ basic needs. In the case of foreign nationals, governments must urgently take responsibility for their citizens and put in place plans to repatriate them. There is no excuse for leaving children to die in a foreign displacement camp.”

Almost 30 per cent of children under the age of five screened by Save the Children for malnutrition at al-Hol camp since the start of February were acutely malnourished.

A quarter of those were suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition – meaning they could lose their lives if they are not urgently treated. Additionally, 13 per cent of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers screened by Save the Children were found to be acutely malnourished. There is currently a shortage of ambulances and beds at hospitals to transfer urgent cases.

Of the 3,580 foreign children from more than 30 nationalities now estimated to be living in camps in North-East Syria, 3,303 are below the age of 12 and 2,045 are under-fives. The total number of children includes 77 who are unaccompanied.

Save the Children is urging countries of origin to not strip children and their mothers of their nationalities, and to take steps to repatriate their citizens. All displaced children in North-East Syria need urgent help, but those from foreign families, more than half of whom are under five, face particular vulnerabilities and difficulties accessing services

Save the Children is working in the three camps providing nutrition, education and child protection, including psychosocial support and care for unaccompanied and separated children. The agency is also providing relief items including winter kits and ready to eat food and heaters to families newly arrived in al-Hol camp.


Notes to Editors

  • Save the Children screened 849 children under the age of 5 from 1st of February until the 7th March, of which 64 children were Severely Acute Malnourished (SAM) and 188 children are Moderately Acutely Malnourished (MAM). This means almost 30% of those screened were acutely malnourished – the global emergency threshold is 10%. These numbers are only an indication of the problem – more children have been assessed as malnourished by other nutrition actors.
  • The numbers of foreign children does not include the majority of Iraqi children, who are classified separately as refugees and live with the Syrian camp population.


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