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The Al Hol camp in Northeast Syria: health and humanitarian challenges
  1. Neil J. Saad1,2,3
  1. 1Berlin School of Public Health, Charité –Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  2. 2European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Solna, Sweden
  3. 3Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Neil J. Saad; neil-jan.saad{at}

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  • Al Hol camp is the largest refugee/internally displaced people camp in Northeast Syria. It currently contains approximately 65 000 individuals, of which an estimated 10 000 are foreign non-Iraqi nationals.

  • The current situation for those living in the camp is untenable due to abhorrent living conditions and restriction on medical care or access to care.

  • International humanitarian and human rights law should always be respected in the camp and foreign governments should not forget the plight of their own nationals in the camp.


With the world in the grip of COVID-19 pandemic other emergencies risk drifting to the back of people’s minds. One long-standing emergency is the war and conflict in Syria, which has claimed at least 500 000 lives and left an estimated 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.1 2 In the Northwest of the country, in the Idlib and Northern Aleppo governorates, four million people, of which two-thirds are displaced from other parts of Syria, are currently in the midst of a humanitarian crisis due to a military campaign by Syrian and Russian government forces.3 In the Northeast, the plight of many in detention and refugee or internally displaced people (IDP) camps appears forgotten. To compound this complex situation further, COVID-19 has now also arrived in Syria, including in the Northeast. At the time of writing, in Syria, 124 cases and 6 deaths have been reported.4 5 Here, I aim to describe the situation in one of the refugee/IDP camps in Northeast Syria, the Al Hol camp, based on my experiences there from May to August 2019 as an epidemiologist with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), to raise awareness about the health and humanitarian situation.

History of the Al Hol Camp

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) occupied large parts of Syria and Iraq and terrorised hundreds of thousands of …

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