Russian air strikes force Syrian families back to COVID-19-infected camps

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Health workers lower the body of a 62-year-old displaced Syrian man who died of COVID-19 into a grave, in Salqin, Idlib Province, northwestern Syria, September 17. [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

Health workers lower the body of a 62-year-old displaced Syrian man who died of COVID-19 into a grave, in Salqin, Idlib Province, northwestern Syria, September 17. [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

A barrage of Russian air strikes on the Syrian province of Idlib in recent weeks has driven dozens of displaced families who had recently returned to their homes back to the displacement camps, where the COVID-19 pandemic is raging.

Many had decided to return to their hometowns out of fear that overcrowding at the camps would put them in danger in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, said White Helmets member Khaled al-Khatib.

These fears appear to have been justified, he said, as the resumption of air strikes and resulting movement of civilians back to the camps has coincided with a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus in north-western Syria.

"The number of coronavirus infections and deaths among the civilian population in Idlib has increased sharply in recent weeks," al-Khatib said.

He also noted that the initial wave of displacement was triggered by an earlier campaign of Russian and Syrian air strikes, which led to the establishment of dozens of formal and informal displacement camps in the first place.

These camps now host more than 1.5 million people, living under very difficult conditions.

According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), there is scarce access to water and poor sanitation inside the camps. And control measures, such as physical distancing, hand-washing and isolating are challenging for most camp residents.

Ongoing Russian air strikes in and around the north-western Syria province of Idlib have caused devastation on a massive scale, wiping out agricultural production and commerce and depriving children of an education.

Russian planes have been bombing targets in the area for years, but the campaign of violence has intensified lately, the most extensive since the "ceasefire" with Turkey six months ago, local reports said earlier this month.

Sharp increase in infections

Last week, MSF said north-west Syria had seen a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus patients, reporting 10 times more cases than a month ago.

As of September 22, MSF said, 640 people had tested positive for the new coronavirus in the region, almost 30% of them health workers.

On September 14th alone, it reported, 80 new cases were recorded, the highest one-day total since the first case was recorded in early July.

Testing has remained limited throughout that time, MSF said, which raises doubts about the real rate of transmission and the true number of infections.

Al-Khatib said many medical and relief organisations are trying to curb the virus outbreak in the camps by disinfecting common areas and conducting awareness campaigns.

They have formed and trained new teams of volunteers to carry out this work.

Last month, the White Helmets and other relief and medical organisations operating in Idlib warned that humanitarian disaster in Idlib would be inevitable if the air strikes continued.

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There should be an oil embargo imposed on Russia.


Russia-go home, to Ryazan and Vologda.!!!Leave Syriya,Libiya,Chechnya,Kavkaz,Tatarstan, Bashkortostan,Syberia,Donbads,Krym, Far East. Russia is prison for tens of etnick minorities .


Russia has always waged domestic wars, neither beheading people nor hiding under [the name] of God. What would happen if [Russia] didn't exist? You are saying Russia is a prison. I have never seen millions from across the CIS, eager to go to jail before. That's a great prison, I guess.


Russia always perpetrates genocides.