Aid workers in Syria’s largest camp for displaced people face an unprecedented threat, a Kurdish official said on Sunday, following the murder of a 26-year-old health worker by jihadists.
The Kurdish Red Crescent on Wednesday announced the death of a staff member from a gunshot wound “while carrying out his humanitarian duties” in northeastern Syria’s Al-Hol camp.
Two members of the Islamic State group (IS) killed the aid worker after entering the medical centre using false identities, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
Most of Al-Hol’s residents are people who fled or surrendered during the dying days of IS’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” in March 2019.
Al-Hol shelters around 56,000 displaced people and refugees — including from multiple nations — and most of them younger than 18, according to latest United Nations figures.
Since the fall of IS, Syria’s Kurds and the UN have repeatedly urged foreign countries to repatriate their nationals, but this has only been done in dribs and drabs, out of fear that terrorist attacks could take place on their soil.
The camp is controlled by the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration.
“The security situation in the camp is volatile and cells of IS are still present” in Al-Hol, Chaykhamous Ahmed, an official with the Kurdish administration, told AFP.
Ahmed said the killing posed a “dangerous precedent” to humanitarian and medical organisations, adding that the agencies would continue their work “but not in the necessary way.”
The killing of the aid worker is a reminder that the security situation in northeast Syria “remains unacceptable,” senior UN aid officials said in a statement Wednesday.
Essential aid can only be delivered “when steps are taken to address persistent safety issues,” they said.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF), one of the main agencies working in Al-Hol, said in a statement that the killing of the aid worker was “a further demonstration of the violence and unsafe living conditions” of the camp.
“Long-term solutions must be found for the people living in Al-Hol that respect their rights, and ensure the safety of camp residents and humanitarian workers alike,” MSF said.
Since the beginning of 2021 the Syrian Observatory has recorded 91 murders by IS in Al-Hol, with most of the victims Iraqi refugees. Two of the victims were aid workers.