Syria: A camp is filled with children

Story by Mari Aftret Mortvedt, ICRC

The Al Hol camp in Syria is filled with children, mostly from Syria, but there are faces from every continent.

In fact, two-thirds of the 70,000 people living in Al Hol are children. Many of them don't have parents or guardians here. Others suffer from preventable diseases or war-related injuries.

Among those who come from other countries, many people here also ask if we know when they can return to their home countries and when their governments will assist them. We tell them that this is the role of their governments, but that we at the ICRC remind their governments of their responsibility for their citizens.

We also try to help people who suspect their relatives are in Al Hol, by making contact with their separated family members.

And, daily life in the camp isn't easy. Children aged just four or five are assigned to carry water. They try to work as a team, but lugging heavy water containers over a distance is a difficult task for children aged so young..

CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Ali Yousef

"My sister is so little she can't hold the big water bottles like me, but she entertains me on my way to fill them," said five-year-old Yousef.

So many of the separated family members are children. It's as if the population of this camp is shorter than the rest of the world's population.

CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Mari Aftret Mortvedt

Rima is two months old and was born after a difficult pregnancy. Her mother is 17 years old.

CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Mari Aftret Mortvedt

“My mother needs you, please.” Nour, 5, came running after us when we she saw us in the camp. We followed her and found her mother lying on the floor in her tent, with an injured leg.

The ICRC has so far registered more than 3,000 vulnerable children in Al Hol, many of whom have lived through severe trauma like losing a parent, witnessing violence or being forced to move multiple times. These disruptions can put their moral, social, emotional and cognitive development at risk, and they now need special care and to be reintegrated into a safe environment.

Many children suffer from wounds from the conflict. Omar, 10, was injured in the hostilities before he came to Al Hol camp. He underwent surgery outside of the camp to stabilize his leg.

CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Mari Aftret

When the wound became infected he was seen by doctors at a new field hospital inside Al Hol camp, a joint initiative between the ICRC, Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and the Norwegian Red Cross.

 "When his siblings saw how bad the injury was, they cried a lot, even more than he did," Omar's mother said.