GENEVA — The United Nations reports thousands of people, mainly women and children, are continuing to flee to al-Hol Camp from Baghuz amid reports that U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have seized control of Islamic State’s last stronghold in eastern Syria.
According to the U.N., more than 74,000 people, 90 percent of them women and children, now are residing at the al-Hol Camp. Many are family members of IS fighters. Spokesman for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Jens Laerke said many of an estimated 2,000 people who recently arrived were in very poor health.
“Most of the new arrivals show signs of distress and suffer from malnutrition, fatigue, medical conditions and war injuries, which is caused by months of hostilities and lack of access to food, medical assistance and basic services,” Laerke said.
Aid workers report shelters for the camp residents are inadequate to protect them from the cold, windy weather. Heating is scarce. Laerke said humanitarian agencies on the ground expect an additional 15,000 people to soon arriving the already crowded camp.
“The camp has significantly exceeded its capacity and there is an urgent need for additional plots to accommodate those currently being hosted in communal spaces and big size tents and also to expand the camp for the new arrivals,” Laerke said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is running a relief operation in the camp together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society. The ICRC notes that not all of the families in al-Hol are Syrian. It says a significant number of foreign nationals, also mainly women and children, have taken refuge there.
Red Cross officials say these people are in a particularly precarious situation. They say many want to go home to their countries of origin, but a number of governments do not want them back. The officials say governments have a responsibility to care for their stranded citizens regardless of the reasons why they left for Syria.