February 09, 2021Featured Article Counter-Terrorism Repatriation Gender Jurisdiction Marginalised and vulnerable groups
(London, 8 February 2021) – The 57 countries that have citizens languishing in life-threatening and rights-violating conditions in camps in North East Syria, including the UK, Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands should immediately bring these individuals home, Rights and Security International (RSI) said today in response to a new statement from United Nations human rights experts. The people in the camps include women and children, and many are children under five years old.
“We are grateful to these UN experts for drawing attention to the pressing needs of women and children held in dire humanitarian conditions in North East Syria,’ said Emily Ramsden, Legal and Policy Officer at RSI. “Repatriation is a human-rights imperative and governments’ failure to bring these vulnerable people to safety raises serious questions as to their commitment to human rights.”
As RSI recounted in a report released in November 2020, thousands of third-country (i.e. non-Syrian or Iraqi) nationals, including hundreds of women and children from the UK and EU, are currently living in camps in North East Syria. The majority are children, most of whom are under five years old. They are living in conditions that violate established principles of international law – principles that the UK and other EU countries have committed to uphold.
In its report, RSI found that the provision of shelter, sanitation, basic living amenities, and healthcare in the camps falls far below acceptable minimum standards. Children are reportedly dying from preventable and treatable causes such as malnutrition, pneumonia, dehydration and carbon monoxide poisoning or tent fires caused by unsafe heating devices. Save the Children reported that in late August 2020, eight children under five died in five days.
There are also reports of male teenage children being forcibly removed from their families.
“Thousands of people held in the camps are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation in conditions and treatment that may well amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law, with no effective remedy at their disposal,” the UN experts reiterated today.
RSI also echoes the UN experts’ particular concern at data collection processes that are alleged to have taken place in the camps last July.
“Highly personal and unique data were gathered from women and children in conditions where consent could not be freely given,” said the UN experts.
“This data collection is a further effacement of international human rights standards,” said Alison Huyghe, Research and Policy Officer at RSI. “It also increases the risk of discrimination and stigma after these women and children return home.”
RSI stresses that the UK and governments of EU Member States have the power to end these human rights abuses by repatriating their nationals and former nationals; however, many governments are refusing to do so in any significant numbers. This situation persists despite calls from a human rights bodies, security experts and other States for all countries to repatriate their nationals.
In official letters issued to 57 governments yesterday, the UN experts urged States whose nationals are held in the camps to repatriate them without delay.
“Governments have the ability to end or prevent these rights abuses through repatriation, and indeed the authorities in North East Syria have encouraged such returns,” said Emily Ramsden, Legal and Policy Officer at RSI. “If governments do not act now and repatriate their nationals from the camps, vulnerable children and adults will continue to experience grave human rights abuses and, in some cases, die.”
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