Is The Assad Regime Using Sick Syrian Children As A Bargaining Chip?

“It is a not a good agreement if they exchange sick children for detainees that means children become bargaining chips in some tug of war,” said a U.N. official.

Eastern Ghouta

After months of deadlock, of critically ill children finally began to trickle out of rebel-held Ghouta near the Syrian capital city of Damascus after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces struck a deal with a rebel faction in the besieged town.

According to Reuters, a handful of patients were evacuated from eastern Ghouta after the Jaish al-Islam rebel group promised to release 29 government officials in exchange for the federal authorities allowing the medical evacuation of 29 children in dire need of medical assistance – a fact that has arisen fears about Assad using children as a bargaining chip.

“Let's hope that the agreements are good when they come,” United Nation's Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland told the BBC. “There can also be bad agreements. It is a not a good agreement if they exchange sick children for detainees that means children become bargaining chips in some tug of war. That should not happen. They have a right to the evacuation and we have an obligation to evacuate them.”


The Twitter account for Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a medical relief organization, has been posting updates about the medical evacuations. However, the group said it was hard to keep track of the patients who are supposed to be transported since people continue to die from lack of treatment.

 “The last one was a girl from the list, from the 29. This morning, when the local staff reached the family to tell them that finally the approval to evacuate your little daughter arrived, the family said that our daughter died a few days ago,” SAMS’ advocacy manager Mohamad Katoub told the BBC.

girl in ambulance

The U.N. has requested the Assad regime to allow evacuation of around 500 patients – including children with cancer – citing the destruction of medical facilities.

“The Syrian war has been a war against the medical profession in many ways,” Egeland added. “Too many hospitals have been bombed, have been hit on both sides, hundreds of doctors and nurses have been killed or wounded so what is left in Eastern Ghouta for the 400,000 civilians is not that much.”

Apparently, one patient refused to be evacuated fearing arrest.


The plight of Syrian children stuck in the besieged town drew world’s attention earlier this year after a heartbreaking photo of an emaciated newborn, who died shortly after being photographer, went viral on social media.

Sahar Dofdaa only lived for 34 days. She weighed 4.4 pounds, had sunken eyes and her ribs protruded through her pale, paper-thin skin. Her mother was too malnourished to breastfeed her and her father was too poor to afford supplement formula. Her parents brought her to a clinic hours before her death, but it was too late for the doctors to save her.

At the time, the UNICEF estimated more than 1,100 children in the rebel-held enclave were suffering from acute malnutrition.


Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Bassam Khabieh

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