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A market bustles in desperate Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria

Some residents have money, while others queue for handouts

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria: Plump fruits, bright slushies, and hair dye – the colorful market in Al-Hol is an unlikely sight in a Syrian camp overflowing with desperate people displaced as the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” collapsed. Clothing stalls stacked with colorful scarves line the side of a muddy road. Plastic containers display glowing oranges, fresh tomatoes and large, shiny eggplants. Children crowd around pristine slushie and ice cream machines. A young girl eyes a series of colourful cakes laid out in a row.

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria: A combo of images shows market scenes in the Al-Hol camp for displaced people in northeastern Syria. -—AFP

More than 70,000 people, the bulk of whom escaped IS-held territory, pack this overcrowded shelter in northeastern Syria. They include more than 9,000 foreigners, who are holed up in a fenced section of the encampment, under the watch of Kurdish forces. Syrians and Iraqis stroll freely through the market in the heart of the camp. But foreigners who are deemed a security threat are accompanied by an escort.

Some of the camp’s residents have enough money to purchase clothes, fruits and vegetables. Others queue for hours for aid and food handouts. “There are many people who buy, but there are also people who find it difficult, because they can’t afford to,” says Salam, a baker. The scent of freshly baked pastries wafts from a rudimentary stone oven inside the Nour Bakery, where he works. He places a long wooden tray carrying flattened dough topped with minced meat in an oven.

The 24-year-old Iraqi, who has been living in the camp for over a year, says he earns about four dollars a day, which he uses to support his parents and six younger siblings. Elsewhere in the market, women in all-covering black niqabs stand in front of a stand displaying hair dyes and other trinkets. Nearby, another stand is inundated with perfume bottles. At the end of the market, sheep are kept in a pen. Two butchers skin a carcass hanging from a hook.

Despite the lively market, the camp has been described by residents and international organizations as a humanitarian hell-scape, lacking basic accommodation and medical facilities. According to Save the Children, some 30 per cent of children under the age of five screened at the camp since early February suffer acute malnutrition. The World Food Program says it has recorded several cases of dehydration and diarrhea. “The needs in the camp are huge,” said Amjad Yamin, a spokesperson for Save the Children. And just a few steps away from the market, the destitution is visible: women queue in seemingly endless rows in front of a WFP warehouse, awaiting food rations. – AFP

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