The Syrian regime has announced the first case of COVID-19 in the country after weeks of denial, and advocates in the diaspora believe the real number of cases is likely higher. The UK-based Syria Campaign writes that an outbreak in Syria could mean “horror beyond imagination.” Thousands of displaced families living in overcrowded camps simply cannot self-isolate. Health infrastructures in the country have collapsed due to the systematic targeting of hospitals and medical workers by the regime and Russia. Especially vulnerable are the nearly 100,000 detainees and forcibly disappeared, many of whom are held in cramped underground centers where they are exposed to horrific conditions including torture and deprivation of proper food, water, hygiene, and medical care. These cells are already perfect breeding grounds for viruses and illnesses, and if coronavirus spreads containment will be impossible.
Families of Syrian detainees are demanding urgent action to release all those held in prisons and unofficial detention centers amid the rapid global spread of COVID-19. At a minimum, the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, with the representatives of the World Health Organization and Red Cross in Damascus, must do everything in their power to prevent the spread of coronavirus among detainees. This includes ensuring that international medical and humanitarian organizations are allowed to regularly access detention facilities, to improve health conditions and provide critical sanitary supplies and medical treatment.
The Syria Campaign states: “For years Syrians have experienced every kind of death: by barrel bombs, chemical weapons, starvation, drowning, and torture. Unless the UN grows a backbone and acts now, countless detainees will experience death by coronavirus in underground dungeons.”
An online petition appealing to the UN, WHO and Red Cross has been launched.
Photo of hunger strikers at Syrian prison via Foreign Policy. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images