In my first days in Al Hol detention camp I joined the wound care team as we visited patients in their own ‘homes’ (if you can call them that – many were damaged tents). We saw patient after patient with gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds and amputated legs, many of whom were women and children.
Our first visit was to a tender looking eight-year-old girl, dressed in a long, lime green dress. The tent was barely standing, with a small cooking area in the corner and three small children lying on the tarp on the floor. Two infants around six months of age were laid under a mosquito net, both of whom looked severely malnourished and almost lifeless, rigid with a likely metabolic disease. The other child was three years old and also rigid and unable to move independently.
I was informed by the nurse and translator that this child had been able to walk a year previously, but that his condition seemed to be worsening. There was no mother or father present during the visit, and the nurse informed me that this was the case every time they visited. This mother had already lost seven children who had died, likely due to their genetic medical conditions.
With the help of the translator, I asked the eight-year-old if she had food or drink, or milk to give the babies. She said she did, and that she was going to prepare their meals. My heart began to sink, knowing that children should not have to have this responsibility. The way she cared for her disabled siblings, for the house and for their meals – no child should have to do this. Syrian children now don’t know a time without a war, which affects their long-term physical and mental health, and damages their prospects for the future.