Just 18 months old, Dalal is fighting for her life with extensive burns. Sadly, her story is not unique


*Warning – this story contains descriptions of a child who has suffered extensive burns*

The vicious conflict in Syria has been raging for 10 years. One of the worst humanitarian disasters in history, more than 6.5 million people have been displaced, forced to escape the violence.

Many of them live in camps in the Idlib province in the northwest of the country. In recent weeks they have been battered by storms and flooding that has destroyed tens of thousands of tents, affecting 120,000 people.

Eighteen-month-old Dalal suffered severe burns in a tent fire in Syria
Eighteen-month-old Dalal suffered severe burns in a tent fire in Syria

Among them is 18-month-old Dalal, currently fighting for her life with horrific burns suffered when a fire engulfed her family’s makeshift home.

When the toddler arrived at hospital over the border in Turkey, she was so badly wounded that doctors who first saw her thought there was no hope.

“I thought, ‘what can we do for her?’,” Dr Cagatay Demirci told Sky News.

Almost her entire body appeared burned. All her fingers were black, her nose was black, her ears were black. “Like coal,” the doctor said. “That means it was already done. There was nothing to do for these.”

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Dalal’s lips and eyelids had also gone, melted by flames. She lost all her hair, burned down to the scalp, her follicles completely incinerated meaning it will never grow back.

Most of her small body was chalky white. “That means the skin was still burning underneath and often means very severe burn wounds,” Dr Demirci said.

Eighteen-month-old Dalal suffered severe burns in a tent fire in Syria
The toddler was seriously injured when her family’s tent caught fire

“I could see traces of carbon in her nose and mouth, which indicated she’d breathed in the hot air and probably meant she had severe trauma to her lungs. I thought she’d fallen into a fire or been caught up in a bomb, she looked so badly wounded.”

Dalal is one of the millions of children trapped in Syria’s long drawn out civil war. Still under two years old, she and her family have been displaced seven times in her short life. She has never known anything other than a world of running away from the fighting.

Along with her five siblings, the toddler had been sleeping in their latest tent in a camp nearly 40km north of Idlib city centre when the fire started. Like so many other families living rough in tents in the middle of winter, they had been using their stove for heating.

Footage taken by others in the camp shows a raging fire ripping through the flimsy tent. Rescuers frantically pulled out the children but Dalal and her elder sister Yasmeen were the last to be dragged free. Yasmeen didn’t make it.

Horribly burned, Dalal was rushed to the Turkish border for treatment. She ended up at the Mersin City Hospital’s burns centre, near the Turkish town of Adana.

When the Sky News crew caught up with her, she was swathed in bandages, her fingers amputated. We could see just a small section of her face peeking through heavy medical swaddling.

Eighteen-month-old Dalal suffered severe burns in a tent fire in Syria
The little girl’s fingers had to be amputated and she has lost all her hair

Her chances of survival were statistically very, very low, “possibly 10%”, the medics said. But after days of intensive treatment, she made progress. It was only slight, but in terms of what Dalal had come back from, it gave the medics treating her tremendous hope.

“She’s a warrior,” said Dr Demirci. “But so is our team.”

Our Syrian producer Mahmoud Mousa used his mobile phone to connect the doctor with Dalal’s parents, still in the camp over the border in Syria, frantic with worry about their little girl.

“Here is your daughter,” said the doctor, using the phone to take her parents into the intensive care unit and show them their child. It’s an incredible moment, but you could see the worry etched on their faces.

Eighteen-month-old Dalal suffered severe burns in a tent fire in Syria
Her family (below) have only been able to check on her progress through video calls
Eighteen-month-old Dalal suffered severe burns in a tent fire in Syria

It is going to be a very long road to recovery for Dalal. Fortunately for her and her family, it is all at the expense of the Turkish government right now.

The Turkish administration has taken on a huge financial and emotional burden trying to cope with the continuing disaster on its doorstep in Syria. More than four million refugees are camped on the Turkish side having fled the war.

In the Mersin City Hospital alone, eight in every 10 patients in the maternity and paediatric sections are Syrian. The number of burns victims they are receiving has increased lately, most likely due to the weather.

Dr Bahar Aydinli, the director of the hospital, says operating a burns centre is a huge responsibility: “You have to have a doctor on call 24/7. You cannot refuse a patient because he/she has nowhere else to go…

Eighteen-month-old Dalal suffered severe burns in a tent fire in Syria
Flooding has destroyed tens of thousands of tents in camps in the Idlib province in recent weeks

“The biggest problems with refugees is that they live in tent camps. If there is a problem with their heating, they all burn down. In a house, you could warm yourself with an electrical blanket but they heat themselves with stoves in the middle of their tent. They get engulfed in flames all together.

“The number of burn cases has risen lately. All from camps made of tents.”

UNICEF spokeswomen Juliette Touma told Sky News that Dalal’s case is not unique.

“Tragically, there are many, many more Dalals, with millions of children and families living under bombardment, terrified of the fighting; displaced, hungry, cold and dying from bombing, or in fires like this trying to keep warm.

“The international community has got to do more for these people. The Syrian people deserve better and diplomacy is the only way through this.

“This conflict cannot be won through force or fighting. But until something is done, there will be many more tragedies like Dalal and her family.”

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