What's it like to work inside Syria's notorious Al-Hawl refugee camp

Jean-Philippe Miller's Syria routine was very simple.

Every day the nurse woke about 6am in the bedroom he shared with three other aid workers in the town of Al-Hasakah. He would breakfast on porridge, occasionally supplemented with bread and the Vegemite imported from his home town of Melbourne.

Red Cross nurse Jean-Philippe Miller treats a patient in Al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria. CREDIT:MARI AFTRET MORTVEDT

At 7am he would board the bus provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross and, with his colleagues, would travel the 1½ hours it takes to get to the Syrian Red Crescent-ICRC Field Hospital in the notorious Al-Hawl refugee camp.

Then it was time to work.

"We are seeing a lot of people with war wounds that have not received adequate treatment, or maybe had some initial treatment that is unfinished," Miller, 35, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

"Fractures and wounds that have been caused by explosions during hostilities. They may have had external fixations – like metal pins placed into the bone – that have been there for prolonged periods and need to come out."

Disease trap: Children play in the dirt near the fence line of the foreign ISIS section of Al Hawl camp in Syria.CREDIT:KATE GERAGHTY

Then there are the wound infections – "necrotic tissue that needs to be debrided" and "a lot of patients with shrapnel and fragments", not to forget the burns.

"Then you've got the other side of things you see in all refugee camps," he said.

"Diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and your pneumonias."

More than 70,000 people are living in the Al-Hawl camp, including about 50 Australians.

Jean-Phillipe Miller treats a young girl with burns in Al-Hawl refugee camp.CREDIT:MARI AFTRET MORTVEDT

About 90 per cent of new arrivals are women and children, and about two-thirds of the camp's population are children.

This week, it was reported that Australian women and children in the camp have been threatenedby Islamic State loyalists.

The Australian government has said it cannot facilitate the safe passage of people from conflict zones.

This week, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton introduced to Parliament a "foreign fighters" bill seeking to ban foreign fighters with Australian citizenship from returning home for up to two years.

Mr Dutton has previously said he would "examine the needs of women and children" when considering whether to allow Australians to return from the Syrian conflict.

"It is a sea of white tents and water towers and toilet blocks," Miller said of the camp. "It's quite miserable looking and it's definitely not a place you would want your children to grow up in.

"What stands out is the lack of shade. There are no trees … the environment itself is very harsh and there is very limited space for these people to get away."

During summer, temperatures climb to 50 degrees.

The Red Crescent-ICRC hospital is the only field hospital servicing the camp. It has treated more than 2000 patients since opening on May 30, and Miller said it was treating "a huge amount" of children.

One of them was a little girl of about seven with second-degree burns to her legs, caused by the explosion of a gas cooker in the camp. She came into the clinic every few days to have her dressing changed.

"She'll have scars. We would dress these burns every few days and her family was always very thankful. No doubt it was painful for her."

Another boy, 10-year-old Omar, was in a wheelchair when he arrived at the hospital.

"He was one of the first patients to undergo surgery. He had an old fracture. We removed a piece of dead bone and fixed his leg and put him in a cast and he's soon to be walking.

"Those moments are very special where you can see the difference you've made," Miller said.

Miller spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age from Beirut. After a month in the camp, he was on his way home to Melbourne, where he works at The Alfred hospital.

He regularly takes time out from his day job to to work in conflict zones and refugee camps overseas.

The transition to home, and back to First World problems, is always difficult.

"There is definitely a phase when you get home when you're frustrated with the world," he said.

"We've got clean water and food and hospital access. I get home and then I'm upset about the traffic or [because] something is wrong with my coffee.

"But it's something I've done enough times now that I know how to adjust."