Misery Grows At Syrian Camp Holding ISIS Family Members In recent visits to the camp, NPR was told of babies dying of malnutrition, and found women collapsed by roadsides. "There's a lack of supplies and the numbers of patients are huge," a doctor says.

Misery Grows At Syrian Camp Holding ISIS Family Members

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/726075657/727190940" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to northeast Syria. A U.S.-led coalition captured the last piece of territory controlled by ISIS in March. In a few minutes, we'll hear from a writer who's been making repeated trips to the area to report on recovery efforts there. But first, we're going to hear from NPR's Jane Arraf. She wanted to find out about conditions at a detention camp where more than 70,000 people who lived in the former caliphate are housed. What she found there is dire - babies dying and women too weak to walk. Officials say some aid organizations won't provide medical care in the camp because many of the residents are families of ISIS fighters. Here's Jane Arraf. And let me warn you that some may find this report disturbing.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: We walk into a makeshift emergency ward full of crying babies. There's a baby girl in a blue flowered dress with an IV tube in her hand. Another, just a few months old, lies on the same bed. Women completely covered in black and waiting for their children to be seen sit on the floor.

The emergency room in this clinic is just a corrugated iron shed. There is a single fan that's moving the air around because it's so hot. But it's absolutely packed with people. They're bringing in children - small children with breathing problems, some who are malnourished. There's an older child sitting on the floor who has brain damage.

It's a Kurdish Red Crescent clinic, and it's one of only a handful of them serving the tens of thousands of people in al-Hol camp, where many aid organizations fear to tread. Almost all the residents here lived under ISIS. And even though most of them are children, there's been little help from the rest of the world. They include the wives and children of ISIS fighters, plus civilians who were displaced by the fighting. All were detained here with the end of the ISIS caliphate, waiting for their governments to decide what to do with them.

SINO ANTAR: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Thirty thousand of the camp residents are Iraqi, like a couple Dr. Sino Antar is instructing on how to treat their baby boy for diarrhea. With temperatures rising and not enough clean water in the camp, children are at risk of dying from it. Antar says many of the children suffer from malnutrition. Some have war wounds. Six children under 5 years old died in the camp in the previous week.

ANTAR: (Speaking through interpreter) There is always a shortage of everything. There's a lack of supplies, and the numbers of patients are huge.

ARRAF: Most weeks, the clinic transfers more than a dozen children with cases they can't treat to a hospital about an hour away. But the clinic's director, Massoud Ramo, says transportation is also a huge problem.

MASSOUD RAMO: (Speaking through interpreter) The biggest problem is transporting the patients. There are waves of people coming and not enough ambulances or emergency room staff.

ARRAF: And as we step outside, there's a woman in pain sitting on the pavement, too weak to pull herself up to a bench.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOMAN GROANING)

ARRAF: She's been dropped off here on the sidewalk after having kidney surgery. There's no transportation to take her to her tent.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Nearby, we meet a woman from Iraq whose little girl has a fractured skull from a fall. She wants a scan to make sure the baby is OK, but she says the clinic won't send her for one. Normally in a camp of this size, there would be international aid organizations everywhere, all of them wanting to talk about the help they're providing.

Here, it's the opposite. Complications with the Syrian government prevent some from operating here. Kurdish restrictions hamper others. A Kurdish official in charge of camp says some Western organizations tell her they can't fund projects because some of the families were connected to ISIS.

Doctors Without Borders, which operates a mobile clinic in the camp, says residents, including the 11,000 foreigners here, aren't getting proper medical care because of the perceived ISIS affiliation. One big international organization asks us not to mention we saw them there. And then, on a dusty road in the camp, there's this.

There's a woman on the ground. She's just collapsed. And she's lying here by the side of the road. Some women have helped her up, and they've put her into the back of a passing vehicle.

So few medical facilities here, there are emergencies everywhere. Jane Arraf, NPR News at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.