Doctors Without Borders staff killed in Syria’s al-Hol camp

MSF said one of its staff members was killed in Syria’s al-Hol camp.
Drone footage of al-Hol camp (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Drone footage of al-Hol camp (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The international medical organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said one of its staff members was killed in Syria’s al-Hol camp and three other people were injured, forcing the charity to suspend critical services in the camp.

MSF said in a statement that during the night of February 24, a member of its team was killed in the tent in which they lived. Three days later, the child of another staff member died in an accidental fire at a wedding in the camp, an incident in which three staff members were also injured.

 “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,” said Will Turner, MSF’s emergency manager for Syria. 

The second incident occurred on the evening of February 27 when a child knocked over a diesel heater in a tent where people were gathered to celebrate a wedding, the organization said. The ensuing fire spread to adjoining tents. 

At least seven people were killed in the blaze, including the four-year-old daughter of an MSF staff member. Around 30 people were injured, including three other MSF staff members and several of their family members.

“Security and safety situation in al-Hol camp has been unacceptable for the past two years. This year the situation has deteriorated further, with more than 30 killings since January,” MSF said.

“Most of those killed were targeted by gun violence, with others caught in crossfire, killed in knife attacks or dying in avoidable accidents.”

As a result of the worsening security situation in the camp, MSF said it had been forced to temporarily suspend its outreach activities, including providing medical care within people’s tents and some water and sanitation activities.

The organization treated four gunshot victims in the second half of January, including a mother and child, in two separate incidents of gun violence.

Read More: 20 people killed in northeastern Syria’s al-Hol camp in January: RIC report

“People are being killed with a brutal frequency, often in the tents where they live,” Turner said. “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.”

The organization called on the international community and countries with citizens in al-Hol to “take responsibility to find longer-term solutions for people living there – solutions which must be voluntary and in line with international legal norms, including international humanitarian and human rights law.”

According to the United Nations, al-Hol is the largest camp for refugees and internally displaced people in Syria, with around 62,000 current residents.

Tens of thousands of those held at the camp are foreign women affiliated to the Islamic State group and their children, the majority being Iraqi and Syrian nationals. As a result of the vast numbers, it has been difficult for guards to prevent repeated incidents, including murders, within the camp. 

Local authorities decided in early October to expedite and increase the departure of displaced Syrian families as part of a new reform program.

Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria have strongly and repeatedly urged foreign states to take back their nationals who fought for the terrorist organization, including women and their children.

Plans announced in the past to repatriate the thousands of displaced Iraqis now in al-Hol appear to have been either delayed or annulled outright by Iraqi authorities.

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly