Hell on earth. Syria’s forgotten refugees.

2 July 2019, 15:36

Un Ponte Per…’s “Syria. Crisis in Al Hol camp” campaign is a condemnation of the terrible living conditions of Syria’s forgotten refugees.

 This week, only 5 children under the age of 5 died of diarrhoea. Previous months were much worse, with more than 100 children dying of curable diseases every month.

Recently the Al Hol camp has become hell on earth, with 64,000 new arrivals between late 2018 and early 2019,  to this camp which previously sheltered 9,000 people.

It was established in late 2016 to host Iraqi refugees fleeing Mosul. The Kurdish Red Crescent and Un Ponte Per… provided ambulances to receive them and take them to the camp, where 4 basic healthcare centres and a natural childbirth centre were set up, together with an ambulance network to transfer the most seriously ill patients to the nearby hospitals in Hassake.

Then in 2017 Syrian refugees from Raqqa started arriving. It was a difficult but manageable situation, and NGOs and the International Community were able to treat the most vulnerable people and prevent the spread of the most common diseases. Because there is a very real risk of epidemics here in the middle of the desert. In  2018, we managed to prevent a cholera epidemic.

There is not much that can be done to mitigate the environmental problems, with summer temperatures reaching 50 degrees, scorpions the size of your hand, and widespread suffering and dust. Drinking water is scarce. The healthcare system is very basic and unable to cope with the needs of the whole camp. The situation was already very fragile but it exploded in late 2018 with Isis’ last stand.

Over four months, more than 60,000 IDPs came to the camp, which at one point housed 75,000 people without the facilities required to shelter and protect them properly. The United Nations faces serious operational challenges in this area of Syria which is not under government control. ONGs working on the ground do their best. But despite their superhuman efforts, the autonomous authorities of Northeastern Syria just cannot cope with a crisis of this scale.


Al Hol became hell on earth, but everyone is working every day to prevent daily tragedies. The Italian Foreign Ministry provided tents and medicine Un Ponte Per… Some of these tents will be used immediately as rehydration and gastrointestinale treatment  units for the most vulnerable, abandoned children in the camp. And the Kurdish Red Crescent has built a camp hospital in collaboration with a German organisation.

Meanwhile, funding for Hassake hospital was withdrawn and it can no longer cope with the needs of the local population and refugees. The camp is in a constant state of emergency and has expanded to the size of a city. The inhabitants are so exasperated, they often attack the service providers rather than benefiting from them. They have no other way to vent their frustrations.

Aside from the hellish living conditions of the main camp, there is another part of the camp known as the “annex”, surrounded by barbed wire and a trench and patrolled by armed guards. Its inhabitants are 10,000 women and children – the families of Isis militants –  unlike other camp dwellers, these people need special permits to leave the camp. Most of the Isis fighters’ wives are foreigners from more than 50 different countries, including many Europeans. Nobody wants them. None of their countries of origin are willing to take responsibility for these women and their children.

Authorities in Northeast Syria are in desperate need of help and keep asking the International Community to take responsibility for these people. The governments of some countries, like Sweden, have shown their humanity and taken in some orphans. 9 children were taken to their relations in Sweden so they could be cared for and lead a normal life. All the other children are growing up in the hellish  camp environment. With no chance of a better future. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says they should be tried or freed. And not left there to rot. They are ticking time bombs, people who know only hatred and violence.

We know that innocent people have recently been left for dead in the sea and on dry land. And nobody shows compassion. But ignoring this situation is extremely risky. How much more hatred must we breed? Violence and revenge can never lead to a peaceful future.

Seen from Al Hol, the very idea seems ridiculous. You just have to look at the dignity and pain in the eyes of our tireless doctors and nurses. Eyes which have counted the number of these human beings in need of protection.

Their commitment counts more than any words. And they are the living proof of the humanity needed  to lend a hand to people suffering this hell on earth.


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