Doctors Without Borders said its team was providing routine medical care in an isolated part of the camp known as the Annex, where foreigners are held, when protests “were met with force from the security authorities that control the camp.” The team took cover and treated four female patients, the group said in a statement, adding that its team was safe.
“We don’t have a clear picture on the total number of wounded,” Robert Onus, Doctors Without Borders’ Syria emergency manager, told The Washington Post in an email. “We treated four women in our clinic in the Annex until we could no longer continue working as the situation was unsafe.”
Al-Hol is operated and guarded by 400 U.S.-supported Kurdish troops.
Two members of another international nongovernmental organization said they had been forced to leave the camp early as a result of the flare-up in violence.
“It was chaos. All we could hear were gunshots,” said one, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak to the media. “The security situation felt so strained.”
Earlier Monday, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S.-backed Kurdish-dominated force that controls the area, said in a tweet, “The situation in al-Hawl camp is deteriorating sharply as Daesh militants have stepped up their regrouping efforts through women in the camp recently.” Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
“This is going to be very dangerous in future unless governments take responsibility for their citizens,” Mustafa Bali added.
The al-Hol camp holds almost 10,000 non-Syrians and non-Iraqis, Doctors Without Borders says, about a seventh of its population. The group has repeatedly pressed for the repatriation of foreign nationals, but many European countries refuse to take back nationals detained in the camp, fearing the risk that Islamic State followers may pose.
It remains unclear who was responsible for the women’s injuries in the camp Monday.
Since late 2018, about 70,000 people, mainly women and children, have arrived at al-Hol, fleeing violence in northeastern Syria during the dwindling days of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.
“Today’s events have already affected our presence in the camp as we were forced to close activities early to ensure the safety of our teams,” said Onus, of Doctors Without Borders. “Nevertheless, we are still running our nutritional centre for severely malnourished children in the camp, as they require 24-hour supervision and care. We will evaluate the security situation tomorrow to decide whether we can restart our other activities or not.”
Onus added: “We are definitely concerned that today’s violence might affect other organisations’ willingness to work in the camp, further complicating access to humanitarian assistance for this vulnerable population.”