A lost generation – drawings from the children of Al-Hol, Syria

Around 55,000 people are currently stuck in the sprawling camp, in north-east Syria. An estimated two thirds of the camp’s population are children, most are under the age of five.

“There’s no future for the children here,” said Nathalie Nyamukeba, a clinical psychologist with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

If you ask them what their dreams are, they say ‘I don’t know.’

They’re living in a camp where there is no hope, no education, where they don’t know what will happen tomorrow. They live amid fear and violence every day.

There are children who have spent their whole life in the camp, without ever setting foot outside its perimeter.

Some were born and have died in the camp – the entirety of their short lives spent in a place of utter misery.

Conditions are appalling. In winter, tents get flooded after heavy rainfall, while temperatures can drop to near freezing.

In summer, the parched earth gets whipped up by the wind to form dust storms. Temperatures reach more than 45 degrees Celsius.

Child’s play

Together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC runs a hospital in the camp. The hospital handled more than 11,000 medical cases in 2021 and more than 8,000 in 2022.

Last year, 925 people received mental health and psychosocial support at the hospital.

Patients often display psychosomatic symptoms, such as lack of sleep, heart palpitations, back pain, headaches, loss of appetite, skin problems and enuresis (bedwetting).

Other complaints include unexplained fear, aggressive behaviour, inability to concentrate, constant worrying, low self-esteem, social isolation and suicidal thoughts – even among children.

“I’ve met a couple of children, not older than 11, who have had suicidal thoughts,” said Nyamukeba.

“They said they didn’t want to live anymore. ‘I hope God can take me and just leave this life.’ These words are beyond anything that you would expect from a child.”

The ICRC, with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, offers mental health and psychosocial support to anyone needing help.

Most of the children who receive help are Syrian or Iraqi. Others are from the section of the camp where people of different nationalities are housed, in other words, children of foreign nationals who are stranded. There are more than 60 nationalities present in the camp.

Recreational activities such as playing or drawing can help children to express their feelings. Some drawings, understandably, have negative connotations.

“It’s really difficult when you see those children without any future, who play with stones, who don’t know how to hold a pencil, it’s very painful,” said Nyamukeba.

“They are a lost generation and it’s not their fault. They are not responsible. As human beings, we need to find a humane way forward.”

These are some of the drawings done by children in Al-Hol.  

Source : Icrc