UN says fleeing Syrian civilians need transit site, aid

Civilians, mainly women and children, are fleeing fighting between IS jihadists and US-backed forces in Syria's Hajin enclave, during harsh winter weather.

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency said on Friday it had asked the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to designate a transit site en route to a camp where civilians fleeing fighting in the harsh winter can get life-saving aid after 29 children died.

SDF forces, led by the Kurdish YPG militia, are fighting Islamic State in the Hajin enclave of Deir al-Zor in the northeast. They are in "de facto" control of the transit zone, but have not replied to the request made two weeks ago, it said.

Civilians, mainly women and children, are fleeing towards al-Hol camp, whose population has tripled in two months to 33,000.

"The humanitarian situation in this part of Syria is critical right now. That's why we are appealing for the safety of civilians, their ability to move out of the conflict zone, to be aided and provided with basic shelter and life-saving assistance," Andrej Mahecic, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

At least 29 children and babies are reported to have died in the camp in northeastern Syria over the past eight weeks, mainly due to hypothermia and malnourishment, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

"Humanitarian actors have collectively requested forces in control of the area designate a transit site en route for al-Hol where life-saving assistance can be provided," Mahecic said.

"Little or no assistance is provided en route to the hungry and cold people, the vast majority of whom are women and children."

SDF forces have also confiscated identity documents and restricted movement of displaced people in camps in Hasakah province, he said, calling for freedom of movement.