After earlier cases of COVID-19 among health workers in Al Hol Camp, the first reported case of COVID-19 of a resident of the camp was confirmed on Monday.
As the number of cases reported across North East Syria rises to over 100, 47 innocent Australian children and their mothers are now at imminent risk of COVID-19.
Save the Children is calling on the Australian Government to support efforts to minimise the spread in the crowded camp though the provision of water, hygiene supplies and protective equipment, and finally accept offers to rescue the Australian children.
Sonia Khush, Syria Response Director for Save the Children, said:
“One of our worst fears has come to pass. An outbreak of COVID-19 in Al Hol camp is going to be challenging to control considering how overcrowded the camp is and how little access families have to water, personal hygiene items, tests and protective equipment, with more than 65,000 people living in the camp at the moment.
“Sadly, there will be more cases. We need to act quickly to make sure we can limit the outbreak while minimizing the negative impact of the control measures on the children as well – such as isolation measures or the closure of education facilities.
“This will be a children’s crisis by any measure. As many as 43,000 children will be impacted by an outbreak in the camp.
“We are concerned about their stigmatisation and their weakened immune systems, and how to make sure they’ll get through the next few weeks without additional emotional or psychological distress. We cannot afford the catastrophe of a large-scale outbreak for vulnerable communities in Al Hol.”
Mat Tinkler, Save the Children Australia Deputy CEO, said:
“The Australian government has had countless opportunities to bring home innocent Australian children languishing in Al Hol camp in North East Syria. Yet at each opportunity they have failed to do so.
“Now 47 Australian children, most of whom are under the age of six, and their mothers are at the mercy of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has the potential to spread rapidly in overcrowded camps, and to have a greater impact on those who are malnourished, sick or have already weakened immune systems.
“It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable group of people than those living in Al Hol, where there is no running water, poor health services and residents live in flimsy tents at the mercy of the harsh climate.
“Australia cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the plight of these Australian children. It must ensure their safety and that of their mothers, with a view to repatriating them as soon as it is safe to do so and appropriate quarantine has been cleared.”
The US reiterated its offer to support the repatriation of foreign nationals during the recent AUSMIN talks in Washington DC. The Australian mothers have also agreed to be subjected to stringent control orders should they be repatriated.