Skip to main content

Syrian refugees forced to camp in toxic dumps, says Red Cross

Up to 70,000 people have fled the recent fight against IS in Raqqa, and many are living in squalid conditions
Internally displaced people flee Raqqa during intense fighting (Reuters)

Civilians fleeing the Islamic State group's two remaining Syrian strongholds face "terrible, terrible conditions" in dozens of poorly equipped informal camps, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday.

IS is under pressure in the remaining areas it holds in Syria, with a US-backed force battling to oust the militants from its bastion Raqqa, and regime troops closing in on militant-held parts of Deir Ezzor.

The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled to dozens of camps in Hasakah and Raqqa provinces.

But despite fleeing for safety, many still find themselves trapped in almost uninhabitable circumstances. 

Tents are literally placed in the middle of the desert, according to Damascus-based spokesperson for the ICRC Ingy Sedky.

"Snakes and scorpions are a daily threat for people," she added.

Many of these camps are poorly equipped and under-funded, lacking basic medical equipment and access to clean water, she said.

Most of the camps don't have doctors on site... They don't even have bandages, even the simplest things are not available

- Ingy Sedky, ICRC spokesperson 

As a result, the camps' inhabitants are at risk of chronic diseases.

After visiting some of the camps to assess conditions, Sedky said that around 50 percent of camp residents are children.

"They are living in terrible, terrible conditions because of the heat. It can be 50C during the day," she added.

Many camps are cramped too, with each of the some 40 camps housing anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 people. 

And as the fighting has continued, the numbers within the camps have been increasing, the ICRC said.

Sedky said many camps lacked even the most basic items, including tents, with new arrivals sleeping in the open for up to 10 days while waiting for shelter.

"There is one camp called Arisha in Hasakeh governorate. The camp itself used to be a petroleum refinery, so you see children playing in toxic waste, drinking and bathing in contaminated water," she said.

"Most of the camps don't have doctors on site... They don't even have bandages, even the simplest things are not available."

She said an estimated 70,000 people were living in such camps, which are often in hard-to-reach locations, complicating aid provision.

According to the ICRC’s statement, it will aim to supply camps with healthy water and necessary medical support.

Residents within the camps have also highlighted the poor conditions, and said that vital resources, such as medical resources and food, are lacking.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.