October 26, 2021Counter-Terrorism Repatriation Gender International Humanitarian Law Citizenship International Security and Rule of Law Marginalised and vulnerable groups Accountability and Access to Justice
Authorities should also avoid separating families
Rights & Security International (RSI) welcomes the news that the UK government repatriated three British children from detention camps in northeast Syria on Monday [18 October 2021], but urges the release of more information about the government’s policy as well as the repatriation of all remaining British children along with their parents or main caregivers.
As detailed in the organisation’s report published on 13 October, Abandoned to Torture: Dehumanising rights violations against children and women in northeast Syria, conditions in the two camps in the region for women and children allegedly connected to Islamic State create severe suffering, as well as a real risk of death from preventable causes.
‘We need to know that the UK is not engaging and will not engage in family separations,’ said Sarah St Vincent, RSI’s Executive Director. ‘Will the UK commit to ending its tolerance of torture and degrading treatment in the camps by bringing back all British and formerly British children and women who are stuck there, suffering out of sight?’
Since at least 2019, sections of al Hol and Roj camps in northeast Syria have housed women and children from outside the region who allegedly have family or other ties to Islamic State. These British and other foreign nationals have not been tried and are confined to the camps involuntarily, with little or no ability to challenge their detention.
RSI, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children and media outlets worldwide have documented conditions in the camps that endanger the children’s and women’s survival and well-being, ranging from deadly fires to open sewers and a lack of adequate medical care. RSI’s research also raises concerns about a lack of schooling for children in the camps.
Despite these serious and widely reported problems, many British children and women remain confined in the camps, with UK repatriation efforts sporadic and infrequent. In total, the UK has only repatriated seven children – including three in November 2019 and one in September 2020 – and has not yet repatriated any adult women, some of whom the Home Secretary has deprived of their British citizenship. In contrast, Germany and Denmark recently repatriated 37 children and 11 women between them – although RSI remains concerned about the fate of children and women not yet repatriated by these countries as well as Denmark’s practice of depriving some women of citizenship
Recent estimates suggest that around 60 British children and 15 British women remain in the camps, as well as 12,000 other non-Iraqi and non-Syrian nationals from a range of countries.
It is not clear whether the three British children repatriated this week were unaccompanied minors or orphans. If not, and if these children have been separated from their mothers or other family members in the camps, this would raise serious concerns about the potential trauma this may inflict upon both children and their parents, RSI said. The situation of women who are involuntarily confined in the camps alongside the children also gives rise to questions about their ability to give free and informed consent for their children being repatriated without them, the organisation added.
‘The return of three children to the UK shows that the country has the practical ability to remove people from the camps – to face accountability if necessary,’ St Vincent concluded. ‘We call upon the UK and other countries with nationals and former nationals living in al Hol and Roj to ensure that all children and women are repatriated and that families are not separated, potentially violating their human rights.’
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