Middle East

Coronavirus fears for Australian children stuck in squalid Syrian camp after fall of IS

There are calls to evacuate Australians from the Al-Hol Camp in northern Syria. Source: World Press Photo

Save the Children Australia is calling on the government to repatriate Australian children stuck in a Syrian camp amid concerns of a coronavirus outbreak.

The Australian government is being urged to immediately bring home Australian children trapped in north eastern Syria as fears grow about the region's ability to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Aid organisation Save the Children said 47 Australian children and 19 women were currently held in the Al-Hol camp in Syria following the fall of the so-called Islamic State.

“These Australian children have experienced horror, they are victims of the actions of adults and they cannot be left languishing with dwindling services in a squalid camp in north east Syria,” Save the Children Australia deputy chief executive Mat Tinkler said.

“While COVID-19 adds an enormous layer of complexity to the situation, it cannot serve as an excuse to leave these Aussie kids there,” he added.

Women queue for aid supplies at al-Hol camp, home to Islamic State-affiliated families near Hasakeh, Syria.
Women queue for aid supplies at al-Hol camp, home to Islamic State-affiliated families near Hasakeh, Syria.

There has only been one reported death from COVID-19 in north eastern Syria but there are concerns the death toll could be much higher than reported.

There is also little COVID-19 testing available in the war-torn country.

Mr Tinkler said if coronavirus was to get into an overcrowded camp like Al-Hol it would be devastating and almost impossible to contain.

“Many children in the camp, including Australians, are already sick and malnourished, making them more susceptible to the impacts of COVID-19. Australia must do everything possible to look after and protect these Australian children, who have done nothing wrong,” he said.

SBS News has contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ask about efforts to repatriate children from the camp.

“Most of these children, and their mothers, have been in the camp for more than a year now. The Australian government has had ample opportunity to bring them home but has so far failed to do so,” Mr Tinkler said.

“All children who have lived under Islamic State are victims, and have experienced horrific, unthinkable violence, deprivation and bombardment,” he added.

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