UN demands humanitarian access to eastern Syria

The UN on Friday (February 1st) called for "unhindered humanitarian access" to people fleeing the last pocket of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters in eastern Syria, AFP reported.

In the past week alone, the UN says more than 10,000 people have fled from the conflict zone to al-Hol, where the main camp for people displaced by the fighting against ISIS is located.

"Humanitarian actors have collectively requested forces in control of the area to designate a transit site en route for al-Hol where life-saving assistance can be provided," said Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

So far the request "remains unanswered", he said.

The area is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are battling ISIS holdouts near the town of Hajin in the Euphrates River valley.

The UNHCR says families fleeing the Hajin enclave describe a harrowing journey, "wading through mine fields and open fighting".

Once reaching the SDF positions, "they describe being herded into open trucks and having to endure another arduous journey in winter weather northwards to al-Hol camp. Little or no assistance is provided en route to the hungry and cold people, the vast majority of whom are women and children", the UNHCR said.

Since early December, at least 29 young children and newborns died on their journey or shortly after arrival at the camp, according to the UN.

"We reiterate our calls for unhindered humanitarian access. It is vital that our teams are able to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance, especially during this harsh winter period," Mahecic said.

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