Iraq News
Human Rights

Aid group urges NE Syria access as coronavirus spreads

By AFP

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A woman walks through al-Hol camp in Syria's al-Hasakeh province on January 14th. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid group on Thursday (August 27th) urged the UN to reopen a border crossing into north-east Syria to boost dwindling medical supplies amid rising novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.

Al-Yarubiya crossing, between Syria and Iraq, was shut in January after a UN Security Council vote under Russian pressure, causing an aid shortage to the Kurdish-run Syrian region.

The Syrian regime -- backed by Russia -- sees cross-border aid distributed without its permission as a violation of its sovereignty.

"The IRC calls on the UN Security Council to urgently reopen al-Yarubiya aid crossing point to stem the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic," the IRC said.

The suspension, renewed in July, "has left millions bereft of essential medicine and health supplies in the midst of this outbreak", IRC president David Miliband said.

The Kurdish authorities have announced 478 cases of Covid-19 including 28 deaths in the region, but the IRC said rates were likely higher due to low testing rates for the virus.

The aid group said the months-long suspension of al-Yarubiya crossing had severely disrupted health services in a region with only 13 ventilators and dwindling personal protection equipment.

Concerns for al-Hol camp

IRC was particularly concerned for al-Hol camp in al-Hasakeh province.

The camp's coronavirus isolation centre faced personal protection equipment shortages, "insufficient hand-washing stations, overcrowding of beds and limited staff capacity", the IRC said.

The UN earlier this month said three health workers in al-Hol had contracted the virus, and the Kurdish authorities announced another case there on Thursday.

A medical source in al-Hol said the latest case was the first among residents.

Aid groups have warned that any serious outbreak of coronavirus in north-east Syria would further compound a dire humanitarian crisis including shortages of water, food and medicine.

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