December 22, 2020Counter-Terrorism Repatriation
(22.12.2020) – UK, other governments should follow Germany and Finland in bringing back women and children from Syrian camps
The UK and other governments should follow Germany’s and Finland’s lead in bringing back women and children from detention camps in Syria that threaten their lives and health, Rights and Security International (RSI) said today. The German and Finnish governments repatriated 18 children and five women from al Hol detention centre in northeast Syria to their home countries over the weekend.
The camps for family members of suspected ISIS members in Syria contain separate areas for foreign women and children. In November, RSI reported that women and children in the al Hol Annex for foreigners are vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, and are at risk of malnutrition, severe hydration, and respiratory illnesses, among other preventable health risks. Levels of sanitation and healthcare fall far below acceptable minimum standards, and the conditions in the annex reportedly are the worst in the camp. Despite these dangers, the UK, Belgian, Dutch, French, and other governments have frequently refused to bring these children or their family members back to safety.
“These governments have the power to prevent deaths, hunger, and serious diseases among children and other family members in the camps – and they should use that power immediately,” said Sarah St Vincent, Executive Director of RSI. “Germany and Finland have taken an important step, and other countries should not fall behind in protections for human rights.”
RSI’s November report, Europe’s Guantanamo, describes the dire conditions faced by the hundreds of European women and children who are being held in the camps. There are more European children detained in the camps than the entire population of Guantanamo Bay at its peak, and most of these children are under five years old. RSI’s research suggests that by early 2020, at least nine European children under three had died in the camps. The Kurdish Red Crescent has stated that overall death toll in al Hol during 2019 was at least 517, including 371 children.
The report concludes that the detention centres create a harmful legal black hole akin to a Guantanamo Bay – for children.
Both children and adults detained in the al Hol and Roj camps are held without charges and with no possibility of review of their situations by a judge. RSI has concluded that their repatriation is logistically possible and legally necessary to protect human rights and prevent foreseeable harms. The organization has further concluded that the inhumane conditions in the camps may in some cases amount to torture.
The onset of winter and the continuing threat of COVID-19 add urgency to this crisis and may cause conditions for children and women in the camps to deteriorate further.
In a press release, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that constitutional obligations compelled public authorities in the country to safeguard the basic rights of Finnish children held in al Hol, and that such rights can “be safeguarded only by repatriating them to Finland.” The German Foreign Minister noted that it “was not legally possible to repatriate the children without their mothers,” likely due to the best interests of the children.
“The UK and other governments can’t pretend they don’t know about the humanitarian crisis on the ground,” St Vincent concluded. “And these operations by Germany and Finland confirm that governments have the ability to uphold their human rights obligations and bring an end to the suffering of their nationals and residents who are languishing in these camps – in winter and in the middle of a pandemic.”
For more information on RSI’s repatriation work, you can read our report or watch the accompanying three-minute video. You can also follow us @rightssecurity to keep up to date with new developments or watch the report’s co-author, Yasmine Ahmed, discuss the issue here.
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