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UNICEF: 15 Syria children dead due to extreme weather

A view of a snow-covered refugee camp in Arsal, Lebanon on 10 January 2019 [Jihad Muhammad Behlok/Anadolu Agency]
A view of a snow-covered refugee camp in Arsal, Lebanon on 10 January 2019 [Jihad Muhammad Behlok/Anadolu Agency]

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said yesterday that as many as 15 displaced Syrian children, most of them infants, have died from extreme cold and lack of medical care.

The children – 13 of them less than one year old – have died in Al-Rukban refugee camp in south eastern Syria, near the border with Jordan. The remaining two died while fleeing Daesh’ stronghold in northern Syria.

“Freezing temperatures and harsh living conditions in Rukban are increasingly putting children’s lives at risk,” UNICEF’s regional director Geert Cappelaere said in a statement. He added: “In just one month at least eight children – most of them under four months and the youngest only one hour old – have died.”

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The Al-Rukban refugee camp – currently sheltering some 50,000 people – is experiencing difficult humanitarian conditions. These have become particularly acute since 2016, when Jordan closed its border with Syria and declared the area a “military zone”. Humanitarian assistance therefore sometimes takes months to reach the camp – in November 2018, aid entered the camp for the first time in ten months.

In eastern Syria, Syrians displaced from Daesh’ last stronghold in the province of Deir Al-Zour face great difficulties “waiting for days in the cold, without shelter or even the basic supplies they need”.  Cappelaere added: “The dangerous and difficult journey has reportedly killed seven children; most of them under one-year-old in Hajin.”

According to the UN, more than 10,000 people have been displaced since December from areas where the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched a month-long offensive to expel Daesh. “The lives of babies continue to be cut short by health conditions that are preventable or treatable. There is no excuse for this in the 21st century,” Cappelaere said, adding: “This tragic, man-made loss of life must end now.”

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