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North East Syria: COVID-19 spreads through camps as Ramadan begins under emergency lockdown

People in displacement camps in North East Syria are being plunged into an even deeper critical situation as 46 COVID-19 cases have been reported across three camps, Save the Children said today.
16 April 2021

People in displacement camps in North East Syria are being plunged into an even deeper critical situation as 46 COVID-19 cases have been reported across three camps, Save the Children said today. 

The figures emerge as authorities have put the entire region under a strict 10-day emergency lockdown, with people only allowed out of their homes for essential items.

As well as the spread of the virus in the camps – which are overcrowded and lack adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities – Save the Children is concerned about the impact of the lockdown, which coincides with the start of Ramadan. Many of the services run by the organisation have been suspended.

Masa*, 9 years old, enrolled in Save the Children’s Education programme in Al Hol camp, said: “I got upset and disappointed when they told me that school is being suspended during lockdown. I miss school, my teacher and friends.”

Samer*, 10 years old, who comes to the charity’s child-friendly spaces in Al Hol camp, said: “When I used to attend the child-friendly space, I used to have a routine. Although I only used to go every other day, my life was systemised, and I felt I had a responsibility, but now during lockdown, my life is empty and all over the place.”

In Roj camp, 28 new cases among foreign inhabitants have been reported since the beginning of April. Fifteen cases have been reported in Areesha camp, and three more in Al Hol camp. Given the lack of testing facilities available in the camps, the true number could be much higher, Save the Children warns.

Najwa* has four daughters who attend Save the Children’s spaces. She had to close her clothing shop in Al Hol camp market and is now without an income. She said: “I am worried about COVID-19 spreading outside the camp. I am afraid that my children will be infected. There is a curfew inside the camp, and I myself imposed another curfew on my children. They are bored in the tent.”

Most of the newly reported cases are among mothers, some of whom have been transferred to isolation facilities. 

At least 12,756 cases and 432 deaths have been reported in North East Syria since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak more than a year ago, with over 1,400 cases and 53 deaths over the past week. 

Save the Children’s Syria Response Director Sonia Khush said: “These new figures are incredibly concerning. If this upsurge continues, it will only be a matter of time before hospitals and isolation facilities - which already have very limited capacity - are overwhelmed.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact this latest increase will have on children. Because of the curfew, they are less likely to be able to access medical services and facilities, affecting their health, education, and mental wellbeing.

“This crisis is made much worse by the closure of Al Yarubiyah border crossing point last year, cutting off vital supplies, including medicine and food, from the most vulnerable people, including children. There is no justification for preventing lifesaving supplies from reaching people in need – particularly during a global pandemic.

“We call on international governments to step up their efforts and carry out their duty in repatriating their children from these cruel conditions. This virus has made an already harsh life unbearable for these children and their families.”

Many Save the Children services and activities across all three camps such as nutrition awareness sessions for mothers, child friendly spaces, and pre-school education have been suspended. However, Save the Children continues to provide vital activities, including individual protection support for at-risk children in Roj and Al Hol camps, and individual nutrition consultations in Al Hol.                                                             

For interviews, call Jess Brennan on 0421 334 918

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