The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has called on states to repatriate 27,000 of their child nationals from the Al-Hol camp in north-east Syria, where the children of foreign nationals who went to fight for Daesh are currently being held.
In a report released by the organisation today, its Syria researcher, Diana Semaan, stated that “Tens of thousands of children … have been abandoned to misery, trauma, and death simply because their governments are refusing to assume their responsibilities and bring these children back.”
Over two years ago, Daesh was militarily and territorially defeated at the Syrian town of Baghuz in March 2019. The surrendered and captured fighters were imprisoned, while their wives and children were placed in detention camps such as the Al-Hol and Roj camps in the north-east, run by the Kurdish militias, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Many of those Daesh fighters were foreigners who flocked to Syria following the terror group’s announcement of its so-called ‘caliphate’ from all over the world, with a significant portion of them from Europe and other Middle Eastern states.
Women also made the journey to Syria, where they were wedded to fighters and often had children. In other cases, one or both of the parents from the foreign country brought their children with them to Syria.
Since then, tens of thousands have languished in the camps, where conditions have been described as extremely poor, squalid and dangerous. Despite human rights groups, as well as the United States and United Nations calling on the countries whose nationality the detainees hold, many states – especially European nations – have been reluctant to repatriate them due to the risk they allegedly pose to their national security.
The Amnesty report highlighted that issue, saying that “governments continue to show a shameful lack of willingness to repatriate [these children].” It also reminded states that, according to international law under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, no child should arbitrarily be deprived of their liberty.
So far, a number of countries have repatriated some of their child nationals from the camps, acknowledging the innocence of the children in the situation and their lack of affiliation to Daesh. Some women have also been repatriated, although they are often detained and charged, back in their home countries.
The group also drew attention to the abuse committed by the Kurdish militias running the camp, condemning their detention of 12-year-old boys, the separation of two-year-old children from their caregivers, the recruitment of children and the obstruction of access to healthcare.
“The Autonomous Administration’s failure to produce and implement a transparent and consistent security plan in the camp has led to a climate of anger and fear amid the pervasive violence,” the report stated.
For its part, the Kurdish militias – or Autonomous Administration, as they are known – have also urged states to increase their repatriation processes or to set up an international court mechanism to deal with the foreign detainees.
“Governments must stop flouting their international human rights obligations to uphold these children’s right to life, survival, and development and promptly repatriate them as a matter of urgency,” the organisation said in its report. “Additionally, the Autonomous Administration must draw up a clear mechanism of return for Syrian children, their mothers or caregivers.”