The Kurdish-led administration of Rojava has handed 30 children of ISIS-linked parents over to Russian authorities. This is the fourth repatriation by Moscow in the last few months. The children were between the ages of two and 14 and were previously in camps in north-east Syria.
Out of the 70,000 people who live in the north-east Syrian camps al-Hol and Roj, 13,000 are non-Iraqi foreign nationals. In al-Hol, 94% of people in the camps are women and children and 53% are children under ages 12. There are no official figures, but it is estimated that as many as 1,400 children are Russian. Like many European countries, Russia halted its repatriation due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but it resumed in August. The recommencement saw 26 children repatriated that month, followed by 15 in September and a further 27 in October.
Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, broke the news of the handover at a press conference on 12 November 2020. He said:
“The children are innocent…we believe the place of these children is not in the camps. They should live somewhere peaceful.”
He also warned that if children are left in Syrian detention camps, it risks a new radical generation of terrorist rising, who will be, “worse than the current ISIS, they will be brainwashed.”
The handover took place after a meeting between Syrian First Lady, Asma al-Assad and Anna Kuznetsova, head of the Russian-presidency affiliated Commissioner for the Rights of the Child in Damascus. Syrian state media reported that the conversation focused on “joint Syrian and Russian efforts to get Russian children out of the al-Hol and Roj camps.”
Campaign in the UK
IOHR has been following the repatriation of children in Syrian detention camps, as part of our #BringUKChildrenHome campaign. After a recent surge in murders in the camps, as well as the impact of COVID-19, it is imperative that the UK government takes action to bring British children stuck in the camps back home. In September 2020, the UK rescued one child from Syria, but according to Save the Children there are approximately 60 British children still in the camps, many under aged five.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that repatriating children is “the right thing to do”, but also cautiously stated that he has to “assess each case carefully”.
The UK lags behind other European countries that have taken efforts to repatriate children, and in some cases their mothers. As well as Russia, Albania has repatriated Albanian children from al-Hol and plans to continue this, bringing home four children and a woman on 26 October 2020. Earlier this year in June 2020, France repatriated 10 French children of jihadist fighters, now totalling 28 who have been brought home. Whilst Foreign Secretary Raab is open to following the lead of these countries, Home Secretary Priti Patel stands against it, blocking a rescue operation to bring home British orphans and unaccompanied minors from Syria in November 2019.
IOHR urges the UK government to bring British children home from the camps, providing effective psychological support and rehabilitation. This should also extend to their mothers, or there should be methods in place for other relatives to apply to become guardians if children return unaccompanied.
See the #BringUKChildrenHome page below: