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Around 7,000 children await rescue in the hugely overcrowded refugee camps of North Eastern Syria. Many are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), malnourishment, limited access to water and medical care, as well as the looming threat of the Coronavirus. After several years stranded in these conditions, their governments still refuse to repatriate them.

More than 70% in Al Hol camp are estimated to be children under the age of 18. Furthermore, a 2020 report by Save the Children quite rightly names the predicament ‘A Children’s crisis’.

And it is a crisis that has been growing exponentially. Between December 2018 and May 2019 the camp saw an immense 680% increase in its population.

The camp is run by Kurdish authorities, who have consistently asked states to face up to their responsibility towards their citizens and repatriate their women and children.

However, after efforts to improve registration processes in June 2020, 24,000 Syrians were subsequently released from the camp in October 2020. Russia, Kosovo, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have repatriated more than 100 women and children each leaving the other foreign women and children behind, in what is now a de facto prison camp.

The remaining women and children look on as thousands of others get the opportunity to return home, wondering when that moment will also be theirs.

“There are around 34,000 children under the age of 12 in Al Hol – more than 120 of them are unaccompanied or separated from their families and living in an interim care centre in the camp”
Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, 14 October 2020

At least 60 of these children, almost all under 12, are born to UK nationals. In November 2019 the UK Foreign Office repatriated 3 orphans, setting what should have been a precedent for others. However, most children in the camps are with their mothers. Stripping their citizenship and abandoning them to their fate does not address the issue that without rescue and rehabilitation, they will potentially be reclaimed by the Caliphate many originally fled.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 20 (1) states,

…a child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.

IOHR is calling for the UK government to change these young lives by acting now to:

  • Bring UK children home from the camps now.
  • Safeguard the rights of the child in doing so, discouraging the separation of mother and child.
  • Ensure there is effective social and psychological support for children on return.
  • Secure a convincing programme of reintegration and rehabilitation for mothers and children, that fosters a renewed sense of belonging in their home country.
  • Uphold its values as a liberal democracy and seek to assist and encourage other states to evacuate as many children as possible, most urgently those that are unaccompanied.
  • Look to other countries that have successfully repatriated and reintegrated as a model.

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