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COVID-19 in a Conflict-Affected Area: the Situation in North East Syria

As the spread of COVID-19 is accelerating in countries affected by armed conflict, fear grows that these regions could pay a heavy toll as their health systems, weakened by years of conflict, are not ready to face a pandemic. North East Syria, an area in which Fight for Humanity is running a project to protect children from the conflict, is preparing its response to the virus crisis.

Fight for Humanity is deeply concerned about the health situation of the population in North East Syria: more than 4 million people live in the region, including 1 million displaced people, often living in crowded camps with poor sanitary conditions. With no possibility to perform tests for COVID-19 in the region and a lack of training, intensive care and protective equipment, such as masks, hospitals are struggling to respond to the crisis.

A call to the international community

In a letter sent to the World Health Organization, 121 local NGOs and organisations have urged the UN and other international organisations to support them in the fight against the virus. The Health Commission of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria called on the UN and the Europe Union to support “the securing of medical supplies, such as devices, equipment and medication.”

Concerns rose in the region after a 4-day water shutdown, which deprived 400,000 people of access to water, at a time when handwashing with soap is critical to fight against COVID-19.

The response by the de-facto authorities

As other non-state actors in the world, on 24 March, the Syrian Democratic Forces added their support to the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire, to facilitate the global response to COVID-19, declaring “their commitment to a legitimate defence situation and avoid engaging in any military actions” Since then a relative calm has been observed, even if clashes are still reported.

The Self-Administration in North East Syria has also taken measures to limit the spread of the virus. On 23 March they announced a lock-down for the population, prohibiting non-essential movement. On their side, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced a suspension in recruiting new members and a set of contingency measures for their current fighters, including a ban on movements between the regiments and military posts and social distancing measures. Restrictions on crossing the border points with Iraq have also been put in place, on both sides of the border.

We hope that the international community will support these efforts for the well-being of these vulnerable populations.


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