Children living in
Al-Hawl refugee camp. (Photo credit: AP)
Foreign children stranded in refugee camps run by US-backed armed groups in northeast Syria could remain there for up to 30 years unless the pace of repatriations is expedited, Save the Children warned on 23 March.
“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,” the UK-based NGO says in their report.
Describing the conditions in the camps, run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as “dire and unsafe,” the report says that in 2021 alone, 74 children died in Al-Hawl camp, including eight who were murdered.
UN data shows that around 56,000 people live in Al-Hawl, an overcrowded camp notorious for its high number of murders and escape attempts.
The report by the British NGO highlights that over 7,300 minors from 60 countries across the world are currently living in the Al-Hawl and Roj camps. They arrived in the camps due to their parents reportedly being members of ISIS.
Child rights organizations have previously found that a large percentage of the children in these camps are dying due to “avoidable illness and death, violence, poor water and sanitation, and a limited healthcare system.”
But while local authorities have repeatedly called on foreign states to repatriate citizens who are stuck in the camps, western countries have mostly sent them back, in fear of a domestic political backlash.
The urgent call by Save the Children comes on the third anniversary of the end of the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The US-led operation in 2019 landed tens of thousands of the relatives of extremists in SDF detention camps.
On top of this, reports in Arabic media claim that Al-Hawl has recently been infiltrated by ISIS fighters who escaped from the SDF-run Ghweran prison in Hasakah governorate earlier this year. This has raised concerns that the refugee camp will be targeted by an attack.