People displaced by Syria earthquake loot aid supplies after baby dies in camp
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A video filmed by our Observer shows displaced people living in a camp in northwest Syria storming and looting a warehouse containing humanitarian supplies after the sudden death of a baby in the camp. The baby’s parents say he died of cold because of a lack of humanitarian assistance, an allegation rejected by some doctors, aid workers and officials.
Our Observer in Azaz (located 50 km to the north of Aleppo) sent us a video showing displaced people living in a makeshift camp storming and looting a warehouse stocked with humanitarian supplies like blankets and mattresses.
This incident took place the morning of February 24, 2023, just a few hours after a family discovered their seven-month-old baby, Zuhair Othman, lifeless in their tent.
Mohamed Othman said that he woke up shortly after 6am and discovered that his baby was dead. A haunting video, first posted on Facebook on March 2, 2023, shows Othman, still in shock, carrying the lifeless body of his child.
“We’ve been in this makeshift camp for four days… and they didn’t give us any aid,” the father says. “No mattresses, no stoves, no blankets. I woke up this morning to find my son had died of the cold.”
Othman says that his family’s small home in Azaz was damaged by the multiple earthquakes that hit southeastern Turkey and many of the rebel-controlled regions in northwestern Syria. Nearly 6,000 people are thought to have died in Syria alone.
'The only thing they gave us was a tent that was very poorly insulated and nothing else to protect us'
Our team spoke to Mohamed Othman:
After the first earthquake, on February 6, we stayed in our home, believing that the worst had already happened.
But on February 20, a second earthquake took place, leaving massive cracks in our walls [Editor’s note: There were twin earthquakes that day, one reaching 6.4 on the Richter scale and the other 5.8.] Afraid that our home would collapse, we decided to leave and go stay in one of the camps run by the local authorities.
I asked for help from camp personnel, but the only thing they gave us was a tent that was very poorly insulated and nothing else to protect us. On February 24, 2023, when I woke up around 6:30 am, my son wasn’t moving. An ambulance located near the camp took us to the hospital, where they told me that he had died.
It was very cold in Azaz the night of February 23. According to the website AccuWeather, it was just 1 degree Celsius (around 33 degrees Fahrenheit). Azaz, located on the border with Turkey, is under the control of Syrian rebels allied with Turkey. The town relies on Turkey for aid and infrastructure.
When news spread that a child had died of the cold, it sparked a riot in the camp, with people storming a warehouse to grab supplies. However, the child’s cause of death is still uncertain.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke with Yasser Samm, one of the two emergency room doctors who saw the baby when he arrived at the hospital.
The child was already dead when he arrived at the hospital around 7am. His body was cold and his pupils were dilated. We tried to reanimate him, but in vain. The electrocardiogram confirmed that the child was dead and so we had to tell his father.
There are quite a few possible causes of death. It is possible that the child suffocated in his sleep, for example. In truth, it’s impossible for us to determine the exact cause of death unless there are clear bruises or injuries that are visible on the body. It is possible that the baby died of cold, but I am not sure why the father insisted that it was cold that killed the child for certain.
Only a forensic doctor could determine the child’s cause of death. And to do that, the body would need to be exhumed for an autopsy by order of the court.
Hassan Al Ibrahim, a general practitioner and head of the health service in Azaz, told our team that there “could be a thousand reasons for the child’s death, including the cold. However, the hypothesis that the death was a direct result of cold remains improbable.”
Nassim Farouk, the head of communication for Azaz's city government which runs the camp where the baby died, has also questioned the father’s narrative. He says that the camp wasn’t lacking in aid, even if it took time to get organised after the earthquake.
In the hours and days after the first earthquake, there were a large number of donors, including many local initiatives. The problem is that a lot of people who didn’t need help asked for it and got it.
One thing is important to note – the humanitarian organisations on the ground are very active. But no one was prepared for a disaster of this scale. Most of the NGOs did have emergency plans but they were focused on responding to air strikes or something of that nature. None of them had a plan to support a population in case of a natural disaster at this scale. Even help from the UN took time to materialise. We had to wait for seven full days before a UN team arrived to evaluate the need on the ground.
‘The camps are cruelly lacking in well-equipped tents’
Twelve people died and another 150 people were injured in Azaz during the earthquake that took place on February 6, 2023. More than 380 buildings were partially destroyed and at least 80 buildings are now considered uninhabitable.
Our team spoke to local journalist Ayham Hilal, who lives in Azaz:
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the authorities put in place emergency camps. There are also a number of long-established camps in the region for people who have been displaced in the past.
Many residential buildings in Azaz sustained serious damage. Many humanitarian organisations and individuals have worked to provide aid to the people affected, whether they are from Azaz or the surrounding area. But there is still a real shortage of tents, especially well-insulated tents.
To add to that, the price for tents has skyrocketed faced with the increased demand. Makeshift tents were set up using tarps between 1 to 2 millimetres in thickness. They have practically no insulation and don’t hold up well in storms. A lot of these tents have blown away during storms and temperatures vary from day to day.