HRW: More must be done to help ISIL camp repatriates reintegrate

The reintegration into society of thousands of children repatriated from camps in northeast Syria for suspected members of ISIL (ISIS) is being hampered by the policies of various, mainly European, governments, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

“Our interviews and surveys found that while many children are successfully reintegrating into their new communities, policy choices by some governments have made reintegration difficult and, in some cases, even caused further harm,” the organization said with headquarters in New York in a new statement. report released on Monday.

HRW said that in some countries, including Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Sweden, “authorities have immediately separated children from their mothers upon their return, either because the mother is under investigation or accused of ISIS-related crimes.” ”.

“Some interviewees said that the most traumatic experience in their children’s lives was not the hardships in the camps, but the separation from their mothers upon arrival in their new country of origin,” the group added.

The report is based on the experiences of more than 100 children, ranging in age from two to 17, who were returned – or, in some cases, brought for the first time – to their country of nationality between 2019 and 2022. most were repatriated or returned from northeastern Syria, and a small number returned from Iraq.

In 2019, when the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) toppled ISIL’s last stronghold in Baghouz in northeastern Syria, the SDF transferred thousands of people who had been living under ISIL to makeshift prisons and detention camps. . The detainees included suspected male ISIL fighters and their family members from more than 60 countries.

Since 2019, some three dozen countries have repatriated or facilitated the return of some of their detained citizens, including more than 1,500 children, according to HRW. Denmark, Finland, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Russia, Sweden, Tajikistan, Ukraine, the US and Uzbekistan are among some of the countries that have now repatriated many or most of their citizens.

HRW said that as of September 2022, the SDF still had approximately 56,000 people, almost all women and children, in al-Hol and Roj, two heavily guarded open-air camps in northeast Syria surrounded by barbed wire. Of those, more than 18,000 are Syrians, about 28,000 from neighboring Iraq, and more than 10,000 are women and children from dozens of other foreign countries.

Of the non-Syrians in the camps, more than 60 percent are children. None of the foreigners in the camps and prisons have been charged with any crime, HRW said. “Neither has anyone appeared before a judge to review the legality and necessity of their detention. Therefore, his detention is clearly illegal.”

While families of imprisoned Syrian children can visit them, detained foreign children are rarely able to have in-person or telephone contact with their mothers and siblings in the camps, interviewees told HRW. Several hundred foreign children are also being held in closed “rehabilitation centers” or military prisons for some 10,000 men suspected of having links to ISIL.

Those who remain in the camps are “held indefinitely in conditions that are life-threatening and so deeply degrading that they may amount to torture,” HRW said.

“Detainees lack adequate food, water and shelter, and hundreds, including children, have died from preventable diseases, accidents and violence in the camps,” they added.

In its recommendations, the rights group said that governments should repatriate all their citizens immediately and “ensure that all mothers or other adult guardians together with their children can return home immediately, in the absence of convincing evidence that the separation is the best for the child, in line with international legal obligations regarding family unity”.