Aid workers at risk from ISIS in Syrian refugee camp after medic shot dead

The extremists have killed more than 90 people in Al Hol in the past year

Inhabitants of the camp, in north-east Syria, include relatives of suspected ISIS fighters. AFP
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Aid workers in Syria’s largest camp for displaced people face an unprecedented threat from extremists, a Kurdish official said on Sunday.

A 26-year-old medic died of a gunshot wound inflicted as he was “carrying out his humanitarian duties” in Al Hol camp, the Kurdish Red Crescent said on Wednesday.

He was attacked by members of ISIS who entered the camp using false identity documents, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

Most residents of Al Hol fled areas controlled by ISIS or surrendered during the last days of the extremists’ self-declared “caliphate” in March 2019.

The refugee camp, in the north-eastern Hassakeh governorate, shelters about 56,000 displaced people and refugees, according to UN figures. They are from many countries, but most of them are minors.

The camp is controlled by the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration.

Since the fall of ISIS, Syrian Kurds and the UN have repeatedly urged foreign countries to repatriate citizens who travelled to Syria to join extremist groups. But this has occurred only sporadically, often for fear that those returning could launch terrorist attacks on home soil.

“The security situation in the camp is volatile and cells of IS are still present” in Al Hol, Chaykhamous Ahmed, an official with the Kurdish administration, told news agency AFP.

He said the latest killing set a “dangerous precedent” and that humanitarian and medical agencies would continue their work, “but not in the necessary way”.

The aid worker’s death is a reminder that the security situation in north-east Syria “remains unacceptable,” senior UN aid officials said on Wednesday.

They said essential aid can be delivered only “when steps are taken to address persistent safety issues”.

Al Hol holds mostly Syrians and Iraqis but also thousands of people from Europe and Asia suspected of family ties with ISIS fighters. AFP

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), one of the main agencies working in Al Hol, said in a statement that the killing of the aid worker was “a further demonstration of the violence and unsafe living conditions” of the camp.

“Long-term solutions must be found for the people living in Al Hol that respect their rights, and ensure the safety of camp residents and humanitarian workers alike,” MSF said.

In the past year, the Syrian Observatory has recorded 91 murders by ISIS in Al Hol, most of Iraqi refugees. It said two of the victims were aid workers.

Updated: January 16, 2022, 4:57 PM