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Aid agencies warn of 'dire conditions' at Syria camp for those fleeing Islamic State

Roughly 15,000 people have arrived at al-Hol camp in northeast Syria just in the last week
Aid agencies said they were struggling to provide medical care and shelter for new arrivals at al-Hol camp (AFP)

An influx of new arrivals fleeing the Islamic State (IS) group are living in "dire" conditions at the al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, where medical, shelter and food supplies are in short supply, aid agencies working there have said.

Roughly 15,000 people have arrived at the camp in the last week alone as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) lay siege to the last vestige of IS’s territorial rule at the besieged village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

"The conditions are definitely dire in the camp ... the problem is nobody was expecting these kinds of numbers so it has been overwhelming and it hasn't stopped," Misty Buswell, spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said on Tuesday.

"People are turning up with the clothes on their backs, and children barefoot without coats. Providing shelter in the camp is a big challenge as there are not enough tents," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jordan.

At a screening point for new arrivals outside Baghouz, an AFP reporter saw hundreds of men, women and children.

Men sat on the ground, surrounded by members of the Kurdish-led SDF, while women clad from head to toe in black waited to be searched.

The United Nations said last week it was "gravely concerned" about the conditions of thousands of civilians fleeing the last IS-held areas after intense fighting.

Aid agencies said they were struggling to provide medical care and shelter for the new arrivals, while water supplies were stretched thin in the camp. About 90 percent of the nearly 57,000 people now living there are women and children.

Some people are being forced to sleep outside due to a lack of tents, said Sara al-Zawqari, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"Several families, including those with infants, slept in the open and under blankets hung from the fences, exposed to the cold weather and rain," she said in an emailed statement.

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Dozens more have died during the journey or shortly after reaching the camp, most of them children under five, the UN has said, according to a Reuters report.

In January, the World Health Organization (WHO) said at least 29 children and newborns had died, mainly from hypothermia, with many making the long journey in open trucks or on foot.

"A major concern for us is the children after this long journey in cold weather ... some are malnourished and unaccompanied," Salam al-Janabi, a spokesman for the UN children's agency UNICEF, said by phone from Damascus.

More than 400 children were being treated for malnutrition in the camp, al-Janabi said.

Many people are also coming to the camp with respiratory illness and injuries from shrapnel or land mines, according to the IRC.