Located in the northeast of Syria, Ain Issa camp is a hub for people fleeing violence and areas controlled by the Islamic State organization. Around 8,000 people are currently living in the camp. “There are new arrivals every day,” says Arnaud Fablet, Emergency Coordinator for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). “However, the total amount of people living in the camp remains relatively stable, as some are only here in transit.”
Displaced people come from the Deir ez-Zor area—a city controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) that the Syrian army is trying to reclaim—and Raqqa, another ISIS stronghold. The alliance of Kurdish and Arab soldiers known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an attack on Raqqa in June and now surround the city.
While the international coalition supporting the SDF are intensifying airstrikes on Raqqa, only half of the 1,250 people who arrived at Ain Issa camp from August 10 to 24 came from the city. “In May, 90 percent of the displaced people were coming from Raqqa and its surroundings,” explains Fablet. “Then in July and the beginning of August, they were mostly coming from the Deir ez-Zor area.” While the total number of arrivals has increased since mid-August, the number of asylum-seekers arriving from Raqqa remains low. According to the United Nations, 25,000 civilians might still be trapped in the besieged zone.
“We are worried because we don’t have any information about what’s going on inside Raqqa,” explains Fablet. "The main issue for us is the welfare of the wounded. Despite daily airstrikes, we have received only one wounded [person] from Raqqa in our hospital in Kobane/Ain Al Arab in the last three weeks.”
At Ain Issa camp, people who have fled the fighting are, in some cases, only passing through. Indeed, those who come from Deir ez-Zor generally continue to Turkey, where they hope to receive asylum. The camp also provides temporary shelter for Iraqi refugees who, several weeks ago, left Tal Afar, a city on the other side of the Iraqi border that is currently held by ISIS. They are now hoping to re-enter their country through Turkey.
But whether they are in transit or are staying in the camp, everyone must register and pass through a security check when they arrive. Next to the registration point, an MSF team is available to provide first aid care. The team screens children for malnutrition, vaccinates children under five, and distributes baby formula and hygiene kits when needed .
In cooperation with another NGO, MSF provides water for the camp by truck, and recently drilled a borehole for a well. MSF also runs a dispensary where a team provides medical consultations and refers patients who need to be hospitalized to Kobane or Tal Abyad hospital. Very few people in Ain Issa suffer from malnutrition. The main pathologies are diarrhea, skin disease, and somatic pains, all of which are linked to the living conditions inside the camp. And those conditions are harsh: temperatures reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit and the air is often filled with a dense dust. Displaced people living there are waiting for only one thing: an end to the fighting in Raqqa, so they can go home.
After more than six years of war, people continue to be forcibly displaced across northern Syria, where MSF teams also provide medical care in Menbij, Tal Abyad, Hazeema, and Al-Hasakah. This support is indispensable, as the conflict has profoundly disrupted the Syrian health care system. Once routine vaccinations are now out of reach for many children. MSF is providing routine vaccinations in Ain Issa and is organizing a catch-up vaccination campaign against measles.