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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

DAMASCUS, Syria, July 17, 2019 /CNW/ - 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.

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. © UNICEF/UN0327908/Hawas (CNW Group/UNICEF Canada)

"It took us nine days to arrive here in 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 9,000 from Iraq.  Most are under the age of 12. These children are highly vulnerable, they are 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 recent experiences 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 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 require care and protection, and also rely on urgent lifesaving 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," says Fran Equiza, UNICEF Representative in Syria, 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" adds Equiza.

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

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

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.


UNICEF is the world's leading humanitarian organization focused on children. We work in the most challenging areas to provide protection, healthcare and immunizations, education, safe water and sanitation and nutrition. As part of the United Nations, our unrivaled reach spans more than 190 countries and territories, ensuring we are on the ground to help the most disadvantaged children. While part of the UN system, UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations to finance our live-saving work. Please visit unicef.ca and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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