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Thursday 26 March 2020

To DFID on Coronavirus in Syria

[PDF version]

The imminent threat of Covid-19 outbreaks in IDP camps, Syria

The Rt.Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan, International Development Secretary

We, the undersigned Syrian and international organisations are writing to you to express our grave concern over the dire situation of the IDP camps in the north of Syria especially in the current Covid-19 pandemic. These camps are estimated to host more than one million displaced Syrians in overcrowded tents, with up to 35 people sharing a tent; lacking basic needs, such as sanitation, running water, safe food preparation facilities, and medical facilities.

Countries across the world are taking extreme measures to curb the spread of the virus. Basic measures recommended by the WHO to halt contagion such as frequent, thorough handwashing, using hand sanitisers, catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, social-distancing, and self -isolation for symptomatic individuals are all impossible for Syrians living in IDP camps. Furthermore, there is no access to basic medical care, let alone, intensive care facilities for those who develop acute respiratory distress or need ventilatory support. Existing remote medical facilities lack the ability to test for Covid-19, lack trained medical staff, and protective equipment for healthcare workers.

DFID provides UK aid to people in north west Syria through the WHO and local partner organisations in Turkey. In February 2018 DFID announced an emergency UK aid package to provide safe water to 575,000 people in Idlib. A similar package is needed urgently since hundreds of thousands more have been displaced since that time. DFID must act now to ensure the safety and protection of displaced Syrians from the imminent threat of Covid-19 outbreaks in the camps. We call on you to urgently organise an emergency UK aid package to ensure the provision of:

  • Running water and soap in proximity to tents. Expanding living spaces and reducing overcrowding by supplying a sufficient number of tents to house displaced families
  • Increasing the capacity and proximity of medical facilities by increasing the number of sites, staff, Covid-19 testing kits, intensive care facilities, and ventilation support equipment such as oxygen support and ventilators.
  • Training healthcare workers and providing necessary personal protective equipment

Multiple human rights and humanitarian aid organisations have predicted that an outbreak of Covid- 19 in refugee camps, usually much better equipped than the IDP camps in the north of Syria will have devastating effects and much higher mortality rates than in other settings.

We therefore call on you to act with the highest levels of urgency.

Batool Abdulkareem, Syria Solidarity UK
Aula Abbara, Syrian Public Health Network, UK
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, Doctors Under Fire UK