Six children have died of exhaustion after reaching a refugee camp in northern Syria as thousands of families try to escape renewed fighting in Deir Az Zor governorate, the UN refugee agency said.
About 8,500 civilians fleeing from the Hajin enclave in Deir Az Zor, in the east of the country, have reached al-Hol camp and other informal settlements over the past five weeks in desperate conditions.
“We are deeply concerned by reports of mounting civilian casualties – including many women and children – and large-scale civilian displacement amid renewed fighting in Hajin,” said Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for UNHCR, on Friday.
“UNHCR calls on all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure freedom of movement and safe passage.”
Over the past six months, clashes and air raids in the southeast part of the governorate forced about 25,000 people to flee. It’s estimated that 2,000 people remain in the conflict-affected area of Hajin.
In the past few weeks, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group have managed to fight their way back to the Hajin after being expelled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Fighting between the self-proclaimed “Caliphate” and the Syrian Kurds living there continues in the eastern governorate where ISIL still holds control of small pockets of territory.
Those fleeing report increasingly desperate conditions, with diminishing services and extremely high prices for basic foods, said Mahecic, adding the agency was concerned about civilians trapped in ISIL-held areas.
Displaced families reach al-Hol on foot after spending many nights in the open desert in heavy rain and cold weather with barely any food or water and only what belongings they could carry.
Many died of exhaustion upon arrival, Mahecic said, although he could not provide any exact figures about the number of casualties.
Emergency health teams in al-Hol are conducting immediate screening and referrals on the spot.
“Dealing with wounds, amputated limbs, injuries and frostbites is the priority. Acute respiratory infections, cold and flu are also concerns. People are confused, exhausted and distressed, not least because of having left family members behind.”
Mahecic said UNHCR and partner agencies are on the ground providing protection and assistance, especially to unaccompanied or separated children and those who require medical assistance.
“Our teams distribute tents, core relief items and winter assistance to all new arrivals. We are preparing new tent plots and scaling up communal facilities in for an expected increase of arrivals from Hajin.”
Storm wreaks havoc
Meanwhile, in the Hassakeh governorate, the al-Areesha makeshift settlement, which shelters more than 9,600 displaced people, has been affected by rapidly rising water in a nearby reservoir.
UNHCR reports that more than two-thirds of the camp is under water and residents are relocating to higher areas of the camp.
In Lebanon, Storm Norma has wreaked havoc among Lebanese and Syrian refugee communities this week.
Several days of strong winds, heavy rain and snow have led to flooding and damage in towns and villages across Lebanon, which is host to nearly one million Syrian refugees.
More than 360 sites hosting 11,300 refugees have been affected across the country, said the UN agency.
In Minieh, northern Lebanon, the storm took the life of an eight-year-old Syrian refugee girl who was swept away by floods.
Most of the destruction was caused by heavy rain and floods in makeshift sites.
In the Bekaa Valley alone, at least 600 Syrian refugees have had to relocate due to floods or severe damage to their shelters.