Children living in
Al-Hawl refugee camp. (Photo credit: AP)
The UN has accused the United Kingdom of violating the law by funding Kurdish-run prisons in Syria, where hundreds of minors affiliated with ISIS families are unaccounted for.
According to The Daily Telegraph newspaper, at least one hundred children are missing from prisons run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The SDF is a non-state Kurdish ally to the US-led coalition, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), created to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq in October 2011.
The newspaper estimates that 750 boys of Arab and western descent, and as young as nine years old, are languishing indefinitely in a UK-funded prison in north-east Syria.
At least one British minor is among the children.
These prisons, alongside camps like Al-Hawl, were built for people allegedly linked to ISIS, but who have yet to be charged with any crime.
In August 2021, a CJTFOIR commander, Paul Calvert, announced their intention to rehabilitate and maintain the prisons hosting the families of ISIS in Syria.
“Our British coalition partners have invested 20 million dollars in expanding the Hasaka prison. We anticipate that project will be completed in September,” Calvert announced during a victory speech.
However, the investment was put under scrutiny by the UN as it constituted a possible breach of human rights.
In correspondence with the UK government in February, the UN warned that the funding of these “mass arbitrary detention centers, is incompatible with the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights.”
In its defense, the UK reiterated that it is following up on the dire situation, and is “planning to scale up humanitarian assistance for minors in detention in 2022.”
The response by the UK was shunned by the associate director and counterterrorism lead at Human Rights Watch, Letta Tayler.
“The UK’s funding of facilities holding detainees whom none have ever been at a court, much less charged with a crime, in life-threatening conditions raises serious legal questions,” said Tayler to the Telegraph.
In January, Yusuf Dahab, an Australian prisoner, alongside 15 to 20 other minors, are feared to have been killed in the Ghweran district prison during an escape attempt by ISIS prisoners.
Despite this critical situation, western countries such as France have continued to take a case-by-case approach to repatriating its citizens, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“It will take 30 years before foreign children stuck in unsafe camps in northeast Syria can return home if repatriations continue at the current rate,” Save the Children, a UK-based NGO, said in its report.
The NGO added that in 2021 alone, 74 children died in Al-Hawl, including eight who were murdered. The camp often comes under attack by ISIS elements who confront the SDF troops.