Bad weather and lack of care affecting Syrian refugees: 15 die

Thirteen of the victims were under the age of one. Eight die in a refugee camp on the Jordanian border. The others died fleeing fighting between the US coalition and the Islamic State group. UNICEF is worried about children’s fate. The new UN special envoy is in Damascus for talks with the government.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – At least 15 Syrian refugee children – 13 under the age of one – have died in recent weeks because of extremely cold weather and chronic lack of food and medical care.

Eight deaths were reported at the Rukban camp on the Jordanian border, where at least 45,000 people are stranded. The other died while fleeing fighting between US-backed forces and Islamic State fighters in the eastern Hajin area of Deir al-Zour province.

The bad weather has caused huge problems to the many Syrian refugee communities in Lebanon as well. Several days of strong winds, heavy rain, below-zero temperatures and snow have caused floods, landslides and damage to over 360 makeshift sites in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, hosting almost 12,000 refugees.

An eight-year-old refugee girl was swept away by a flood in the northern town of Minieh, while at least 600 refugees had to be relocated in the Bekaa valley.

The UN children's agency, UNICEF, said the extreme cold and lack of medical care for mothers before and during birth, as well as for new infants, had exacerbated the already dire conditions at Rukban camp, where 80 per cent of the population are women and children.

"The lives of babies continue to be cut short by health conditions that are preventable or treatable," warned Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF's Middle East regional director. "There are no excuses for this in the 21st century. This tragic manmade loss of life must end now.”

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

The refugee camp on the Jordanian border is of particular concern. Since 2015, tens of thousands of refugees have lived in a cluster of more than 10,000 makeshift tents and mud huts in Syria’s remote eastern desert.

The camp's residents want to cross into Jordan, but the kingdom sealed the crossing near Rukban in 2016 after six of its soldiers were killed in a bomb attack.

In November 2018, a UN aid convoy reached the camp for the first time in 10 months.

The latest developments come as the newly appointed UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pederson, arrived in Damascus, for his first meeting with the Government, since taking over from veteran UN negotiator Staffan de Mistura.

In a message on Twitter, the Norwegian diplomat said he was “looking forward to productive meetings” to start a path towards a stable and lasting peace.