Children ‘dying from hypothermia’ at camp in Syria

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At least 29 children and newborns are reported to have died in a teeming camp in northeastern Syria over the past eight weeks, mainly due to hypothermia, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

The camp’s population increased significantly after about 23,000 people fleeing fighting in Deir Az Zor between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance have arrived at al-Hol camp during the period, WHO said on Thursday.

“The situation in al-Hol camp is heartbreaking. Children are dying from hypothermia as their families flee to safety,” Elizabeth Hoff, WHO representative in Syria, said in a statement.

The United Nations agency appealed for unhindered access to the camp, saying the situation has become “critical” for 33,000 people, mainly women and children, now living in bitterly cold winter conditions.

Many displaced had walked for days or travelled in open trucks, arriving malnourished and exhausted following “years of deprivation” living under control of ISIL, it said.

“Thousands of new arrivals have been forced to spend several nights in the camp’s open-air reception and screening areas, without tents, blankets or heating,” the WHO added.

WHO-supported teams are working in the camp to screen new arrivals, support vaccination and refer severely malnourished children to a hospital in al-Hasakah, it said.

“Humanitarian access to the camp and surrounding roads is hampered by bureaucratic obstacles and security constraints,” it added, appealing to all parties to provide unhindered access for life-saving aid.

“The situation in the camp is now critical. Its population has tripled in size (from 10,000 to almost 33,000 people) in less than two months,” it said.