Fears of coronavirus spreading through Al-Hol refugee camp after three health workers test positive

James Rothwell
·2-min read
 A picture taken on October 17, 2019 shows a French citizen holding a child by the hand at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp for the displaced where families of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters - AFP
A picture taken on October 17, 2019 shows a French citizen holding a child by the hand at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp for the displaced where families of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters - AFP

Three health workers in the notorious Al-Hol refugee camp containing the relatives of Isamic State fighters have tested positive for coronavirus, prompting fears a rapid outbreak could be underway. 

Al-Hol is the home of thousands of refugees displaced from territory in Syria formerly occupied by the Islamic State (IS), as well as former members of the group and their families. 

It is operated by the autonomous Kurdish administration that controls most of the northeast of Syria and has reported 54 cases of COVID-19 in areas under its control.

"On 3 August, three health workers reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 at the Al-Hol IDP camp," a spokesman for the UN’s Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. 

They added: "The contact tracing process is ongoing. As a precautionary measure, only critical staff, with personal protective equipment, are allowed to operate inside the camp.”

A small number of British wives of IS fighters and their children are among those living in the camp. 

Shamima Begum, the East London teenager who fled Britain to join IS, was initially placed in Al-Hol but has since been moved to the smaller Roj camp. 

It is understood that the three infected staff members work for the Kurdih Red Crescent, which provides aid to the camp’s detainees. 

"We fear that the virus could have spread to camp residents visiting health clinics," a health official at the camp told AFP news agency. 

Since the outbreak authorities have prevented journalists from entering the camps, making it difficult to verify information. 

The latest infections raise to nine the number of Kurdish Red Crescent staff in northeastern Syria who have contracted the virus, according to one of its volunteers. 

Nine years of war have decimated healthcare provision in Syria, but the situation in the northeast is particularly severe, as the Kurdish authorities have been left to cope with the coronavirus pandemic largely unaided.

This has raised fears that any outbreak could swiftly escalate into an epidemic gripping the entire Kurdish region.

The total number of cases of coronavirus in Syria is believed to be around 940, though the actual figure is likely to be significantly higher. Around 48 people are said to have died due to the disease so far.