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Syria women miscarry in Lebanon refugee camp due to water pollution

A woman walks with children at a refugee camp on October 17, 2016 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images]
A woman walks with children at a refugee camp on October 17, 2016 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images]

Some 20 Syrian refugee women have suffered miscarriages in the Lebanese town of Arsal, with doctors suspecting that polluted water in the camps might be the reason, Syrian news agency Zaman Al-Wasl has reported.

Health officials with Lebanese charity Al-Irshad Wal Islah told reporters, on the condition of anonymity, that they had witnessed several cases recently where women had miscarried for no apparent reason, despite having no other existing conditions threatening their pregnancies.

The report notes some six women that have lost their babies in one week in November; some were only in the second month of their pregnancies while others had almost reached full term.

Suspicion has fallen on the camp’s water supply, which serves the tens of thousands of refugees living in the border town. The infrastructure in the camp was damaged last month after heavy rains in the region flooded the ground completely, destroying tents, mattresses and belongings.

“When the miscarriages were taking place, at first we thought they were natural but when the numbers increased in quick succession, one day after the next, some cases happening at the same time, this made us question the newly installed water supply,” one official said.

Last month, Qatar’s Red Crescent Society announced that it would fund a project alongside local Lebanese administrators to provide refugees in Arsal with clean, potable drinking water at the cost of $175,000. However, refugees are appealing to Lebanese authorities to investigate samples of the contaminated water sent to the neighbouring town of Zahle now, in an effort to protect others from falling ill.

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Syrians displaced inside and outside the country face worsened humanitarian conditions as winter approaches, with many severely lacking basic food and medical supplies. Neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan have also been accused of neglecting management of camps in an attempt to persuade Syrians to return to their homes that are once again under the jurisdiction of the regime.

Some 55,000 Syrians are believed to have returned to their homes from Lebanon, a figure the Lebanese General Security authorities put closer to 90,000. However, many fear what will await them on their return, with 92 per cent of refugees in Arsal, surveyed by Zaman Al-Wasl, stating that they would not return to towns deemed in safe in western Qalamoun.

Earlier this month, Lebanese Caretaker Minister for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merehbi said that at least 20 refugees that have returned to Syria from Lebanon have been killed by the regime and their allied forces. He went on to criticise what he called the lack of coordination between his ministry and the Lebanese security apparatus, which has established centres to register refugees returning to Syria. Whilst some Syrians have left Lebanon of their own accord, other Lebanese government programmes have mandated return to areas of Syria deemed safe.

“If the Syrian regime really wants Syrians to come back they should stop killing them when they return home,” Merehbi said.

Under international law, refugees cannot be deported to a country where they at risk of abuse, and all returns must be voluntary, safe and dignified. The UN High Commission for Refugees (HCR) and Western governments have warned that it is too early to discuss large-scale returns of refugees to Syria, as insecurity may lead to a second wave of displacement.

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