Remember the armed men who wanted to kill mum?" : The hidden Toll of Violence in Al Hol on Syrian and Iraqi CHildren

Around 57,000 people live in Al Hol camp in North East Syria - 64% of them are children. Almost 50% of the camp’s population are under the age of 12. Originally established in 1991, Al Hol was reopened in 2016 when anti-ISIS operations began in Iraq, sending thousands of Iraqi civilians across the border into Syria in search of safety. From 2016 to 2018 there was an influx of Syrian internally displaced people (IDPs). During the final offensive against ISIS in Hajin and Baghouz in early 2019, the camp’s population skyrocketed from approximately 9,800 people to over 73,000 people.


While security incidents are not new in the camp, including attacks against security personnel, arson, escape attempts, and fights between residents, from April 2019 the security situation has significantly deteriorated, after the first recorded murder. Since then, there have been at least 130 murders, including eight children, and 46 attacks/ attempted murders.


The pace of the murders increased substantially from September 2020 onwards. From April 2019 to September 2020, there were 25 murders. Since then, there have been 106 murders, including at least four in 2022 alone. In 2021, this amounted to an average of more than two people killed per week and made Al Hol- per capita- one of the most dangerous places in the world. The overwhelming majority (98%) of these attacks have taken place in Al Hol’s Main Camp, home to Syrian and Iraqi men, women and children. The pervasive insecurity has had a profound effect on children’s fundamental rights, their sense of safety, their psychological well-being, their education and their hopes for the future. Children have seen murders directly and hear and share graphic descriptions of other attacks. 


They worry that their siblings and especially their parents will be killed. Most are now forbidden from playing outside. Many of them have nightmares. Others have lost interest in going to school. These are pressures and fears that no child should have to carry. Their parents, deeply fearful themselves, struggle to manage their children’s reactions to this daily threat of violence and its aggregate impact on their behavior and their healthy development.


Al Hol is no place for any child to grow up. Many families, fearing the violence, want to leave the camp but parents worry about finding jobs and being able to provide for their families. Khalil, a Syrian father of five, has been living in Al Hol for f ive years. He told Save the Children: “We are trying our best to leave the camp. My children are pressuring me to leave. But we don’t know whether our situation outside will be better than here. My f irst thought this morning was leaving the camp. I always dream about leaving.”  Three months after Khalil said those words to Save the Children, his seven-year-old daughter was shot and injured when armed clashes erupted in the camp on 28 March 2022. Khalil’s daughter was one of f ive other children who were also injured while another child was reportedly killed on that day.


Ongoing insecurity in Al Hol denies children their fundamental right to be protected from the devastating effects this widespread violence is having on their survival, learning and protection. These rights are enshrined in international human rights law and standards, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and must be fulfilled to allow these children the chance to fulfill their potential.

Save the Children | 2022
London : Save the Children
Children, Effects, Iraqis, Mental health, Methodology, Psychosocial support, Sleep Disorders, Syrians, Violence, War