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Hypothermia killing children, babies at Syria refugee camp – WHO

  • 31 Jan 2019

At least 29 newborns and children have died, mainly due to exposure to the cold. Clashes in Deir Ezzor resulted in 20,000 people fleeing to northeastern Al Hol camp in past eight weeks, the UN agency says.

Civilians fleeing from fighting in the frontline Syrian village of Baghuz, near the Iraqi border, sit together as they await to be screened and registered by YPG/PYD near the Omar oil field in the countryside of the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on January 30, 2019. ( AFP )

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 (or 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.

About 23,000 people fleeing fighting in Deir Ezzor between Daesh and the US-backed YPG/PYD have arrived at Al Hol camp during the period, swelling its population, it said. The YPG/PYD is the Syrian branch of the PKK which is recognised as a terror organisation by Turkey. the US and EU. 

The PKK’s four-decade terrorist campaign against the Turkish state has led more than 40,000 casualties across the country.

Unhindered access sought

The United Nations agency appealed for unhindered access to the camp, saying the situation has become "critical" for thousands of people, mainly women and children, now living there 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 Daesh, 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 around the clock in the camp to screen new arrivals, support vaccination and refer severely malnourished children to a hospital in Al Hasakah city, 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.

Daesh stronghold shrinking 

Meanwhile, thousands of people have been fleeing Daesh's last major stronghold in Syria in recent days.

The YPG/PYD militants have intensified offensive in the last area held by Daesh. The ground offensive is taking place under the cover of air strikes by the US-led coalition.

The militant group, which once controlled around a third of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, is now besieged in a small area in eastern Syria where it has been relying on suicide attacks to stop the advance by the YPG/PYD.

The area has been shrinking since the YPG/PYD began its offensive on September 10, and hundreds on both sides have been killed.

Despite the intensity of the offensive and the air strikes, some Daesh militants holed up in two villages are refusing to surrender and have continued to inflict losses on the attacking forces.

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