AMSTERDAM/NORTHEASTERN SYRIA/NEW YORK, March 2, 2021—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is shocked and saddened after one staff member was killed and three were injured in two separate incidents on February 24 and 27 in Al-Hol camp for displaced people in northeastern Syria. MSF is extremely concerned about the insecurity facing camp residents, two-thirds of whom are children, and calls on the international community and countries with citizens in Al-Hol camp to urgently find long-term solutions for those living there.
On the night of February 24, a member of MSF’s team was killed in the tent where they lived. “Our colleague was off-duty with their family when they were killed,” says Will Turner, MSF emergency manager for Syria. “We are trying to better understand the situation and circumstances around their death. MSF is providing support to the family during this difficult time and we offer our sincerest condolences to our colleague’s family and friends.”
“People are being killed with a brutal frequency, often in the tents where they live,” says Turner. “Many of those killed leave behind children who have no one else to take care of them. The authorities have a responsibility to provide people with safety and security at all times. This is not a safe environment and certainly not a suitable place for children to grow up in. This nightmare must stop.”
On February 27, the child of a staff member died, and three staff members were injured in a fire at a wedding in Al-Hol camp. The fire broke out and spread to adjoining tents after a child accidentally knocked over a diesel heater. At least seven people were killed in the blaze, including the four-year-old daughter of an MSF staff member. Approximately 30 people were injured, including three MSF staff members and several of their family members. Many of the injured were taken to hospitals in Al-Hassakeh city for treatment, although there is confusion around who was referred to which hospital and the total number of injured remains unknown.
“I just want to know where my child is,” said one of the MSF staff members being treated in Al-Hassakeh, who has been unable to get information about other injured family members. “All I can think about is my family.”
The security and safety situation in AL-Hol camp has been unacceptable for the past two years. This year the situation has deteriorated further—more than 30 people have been killed since January. Most of those killed were targeted by gun violence, others were caught in crossfire, killed in knife attacks, or died in avoidable accidents.
In the second half of January in two separate incidents of gun violence, four gunshot victims, including a mother and child, were received at an MSF clinic in the camp that treats malnourished children.
As a result of the worsening security situation in Al-Hol camp, MSF has been forced to temporarily suspend its outreach activities within the camp, including providing medical care within people’s tents and some water and sanitation activities.
The recent tragic incidents demonstrate the human toll of the violence and unsafe living conditions experienced by camp residents. Al-Hol is under the control of local authorities and security forces who prevent most residents from leaving the camp’s perimeters.
MSF calls on the international community and countries with citizens in Al-Hol camp to take responsibility to find long-term solutions for people living there—solutions which must be voluntary for those they impact and in line with international legal norms, including international humanitarian and human rights law.