November 25, 2020Featured Article Counter-Terrorism Repatriation International Humanitarian Law Jurisdiction Citizenship International Security and Rule of Law Marginalised and vulnerable groups Accountability and Access to Justice
Today Rights and Security International (RSI) publishes its hard-hitting report calling for the immediate repatriation of European women and children held in detention camps in North East Syria.
On February 3, 2021, RSI re-published this second version of the report with some corrections for accuracy and security reasons.
On 25 November 2020, the week that Shamima Begum’s case comes before the UK Supreme Court, RSI’s hard-hitting report accuses European governments of creating Europe’s Guantanamo in Kurdish-run detention camps in North East Syria. Some 640 European children and 230 European women accused of supporting ISIS are currently being held without charge or the possibility of a trial. There are more European children detained in the detention camps than the entire population of Guantanamo Bay at its peak, and most of these children are under five years old. Like Guantanamo, they have no legal rights or protections and suffer inhumane and brutal conditions.
RSI calls on European States to fulfil their legal, political and moral responsibilities and immediately repatriate their citizens.
Children are routinely dying from preventable and treatable causes, such as malnutrition, pneumonia and dehydration. When RSI visited the camps in early 2020, at least nine European children under three had died in the camps, including a new-born British baby who died of treatable respiratory complications. At that time, the overall death toll in al Hol during 2019 was at least 517, including 371 children, and by late August 2020, the death rate of children in al Hol camp had tripled, with eight children under five dying in five days between 6 and 10 August 2020.
RSI also uncovered instances of severe abuse and violence in the camps, including children being killed, sexually abused, abducted and forcibly separated from their mothers to be taken to unknown locations. In some cases, this treatment is so serious that it arguably amounts to torture.
The camps are run by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), Europe’s ally against ISIS in North East Syria. The AANES has persistently pressed European States to take back their women and children. But European States have refused to repatriate in any significant numbers. They consider that the possible security threat posed by these women and children is best managed outside their countries. Accordingly, like the US approach to Guantanamo, they have adopted a policy of consigning women and children to indefinite unlawful detention in North East Syria, rather than bringing them home to be dealt with properly according to the law and to face justice.
European States have also argued that the logistical challenges of repatriation are insurmountable. However, RSI has discovered that European States have a presence in the detention camps, and have already repatriated a small number of their nationals, mostly children, from the camps in 2019 and 2020.
Yasmine Ahmed, the Executive Director of Rights & Security International said:
“This is Europe’s Guantanamo, but for children. It beggars belief that European governments, who rightly condemned the abuses of Guantanamo Bay, now stand by and let children die. Now these women and children face another brutal winter with more deaths. The claim that it is safer to leave women and children in the camps flies in the face of security experts who say that the real security risk comes from leaving these women and children in the detention camps where they are vulnerable to radicalisation, and where their dire conditions can serve as a recruitment tool. Have we learnt nothing from the last 20 years on the war on terror? When we place people outside the law, when we deny them rights, treat them with brutality and without humanity, we not only undermine the values we are fighting for but we make ourselves and the world less safe, not more.”
Richard Barrett, the former MI6 Director of Global Counter-terrorism who was interviewed for the report said:
“The longer they stay without proper assessment of their mental and physical health or their attitudes towards their families, communities and countries – the more unpredictable they will become. And the more difficult it will be to determine what they’re going to do.”
European States’ refusal to take action is not only a profound moral failure and arguably a breach of their international obligations, but also a dangerous strategic blunder. Leaving these women and children out of sight in North East Syria invites catastrophe. European Governments must immediately repatriate all their women and children from the detention camps in North East Syria.
Read our full report here.
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