Children in a camp for displaced persons in Idlib Province, northwest Syria
Medics and activists warn that hundreds of thousands of Syria’s displaced civilians desperately need help against the “invisible enemy” of Coronavirus.
More than 2.7 million of the 4.7 million people in Idlib and western Aleppo Provinces have been forced from other parts of Syria. More than a million were displaced by a Russian-regime offensive that seized part of northwest Syria between April 2019 and March 2020.
Mohamad Hallaj, the manager of the Syrian Response Co-ordination Group, said there have now been 51 confirmed cases across 20 camps.
“The civilian infection rate in camps has reached 11 per cent of total infections in northern Syria,” Hallaj said.
Idlib Province reported it first case in mid-July. On Monday, 26 new cases were recorded, raising the total to 640 from 9,045 tests. There have been six confirmed deaths.
The actual number of cases is likely to be far higher, but the opposition area has only testing center with a capacity of 200 tests per day.
Medical and public health specialists warn that the virus can spread rapidly in overcrowded camps with packed tents, poor sanitation, and shared washing facilities and toilets.
Hallaj told The National, “There are 1,293 camps in northern Syria that house 1,043,000 people. Only 20 per cent are equipped with simple sewage systems – the rest are dependent on dirt holes. A camp with 400 families may only have 10 bathrooms available for use.”
“Verge of a Disaster”
The crisis has been exacerbated by the cutoff of cross-border aid, after Russia used its Security Council veto to close the last crossings from Turkey.
Moscow has also periodically broken the March 5 ceasefire announced by President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On Monday, Russian warplanes carried out their most intense strikes in more than six months, including an attack near a displaced persons camp.
Dr. Maram al-Sheikh, Health Minister in the opposition’s Syrian Interim Government, warned:
The number of cases will gradually increase over the next few weeks.
We hope that the World Health Organization and others will realize that we are on the verge of a real disaster, and be fully aware of the seriousness of the situation in northern Syria.
Said Abdulsalam al-Yousef, a father of eight in the Ahl al-Tah camp in northern Idlib Province, spoke of his fear, “My children have weak immune systems. We are facing an invisible enemy and we will not be able to escape from it if it spreads in the camps.”