Freezing temperatures kill eight children in Syria's Rukban camp

Most of the children are under four months old

A Syrian girls looks on as aid items to cope with the winter weather are delivered to the al-Hol refugee camp in al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria on January 07, 2019. / AFP / Delil souleiman
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At least eight children have died because of freezing temperatures and harsh living conditions in an informal refugee camp near Syria’s south-western border with Jordan this month, the UN said on Tuesday.

Most of the children who have died in the Rukban camp are under four months old and the youngest is only one hour hold, the UN’s child agency Unicef said in a statement.

The organisation said that extreme cold and the lack of medical care for mothers before and during birth are increasingly putting the lives of infants and women at risk.

80 per cent of the camp’s estimated population of 45,000 are women and children.

“The lives of babies continue to be cut short by health conditions that are preventable or treatable. There are no excuses for this in the 21st century. This tragic manmade loss of life must end now,” Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa said in a statement.

“Without reliable and accessible healthcare, protection and shelter, more children will die day in, day out in Rukban, Deir Ezzor and elsewhere in Syria. History will judge us for these entirely avoidable deaths."

The statement comes two days after a woman trapped inside the remote Syrian displacement camp set herself and her children on fire in an attempted suicide which her husband said was due to dire living conditions and lack of food.

The woman and her children were rescued. No one was killed.

The camp remains the most desperate settlement in the war-torn country. Residents say the conditions, especially during the winter, are unbearable due to harsh environments. The camp recently flooded, washing away tents and possessions and leaving some families sheltering with other residents.

Humanitarian organisations and the United Nations have had only limited access to the Rukban camp in the berm between Jordan and Syria since its formation. The last time aid was delivered to the area was in November. Even then, residents said that aid deliveries were not enough to meet demand.

“Needs for assistance in Rukban are beyond urgent. They are extremely acute and have become a matter of life and death,” Mr Cappelaere said.

“Once again, UNICEF calls on all sides to urgently facilitate a humanitarian convoy to Rukban, including mobile health clinics, so that lifesaving supplies and services can be delivered,” he added.

“Surely, this is not too much to ask when the lives of tens of thousands of children - children - depend on it.”

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said last month that his country will not allow Syrian refugees trapped inside the Rukban camp to enter its territory, despite urgent appeals from camp residents.


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Unicef on Tuesday also expressed concern over the fate of civilians fleeing ISIS-held territory east of the Euphrates River due to fighting between militants and US-backed forces.

The organisation said the battles in the Hajin pocket have displaced an estimated 10,000 people since December.

“Families seeking safety face difficulties leaving the conflict zone and wait in the cold for days without shelter or basic supplies. The dangerous and difficult journey has reportedly killed seven children – most of them under one-year-old,” the statement said.