AMMAN, February 20 - More than 2,500 children from more than 30 countries are living in three camps for people displaced in North-East Syria, Save the Children revealed today. They include 38 who are unaccompanied.
The agency is urging the international community to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of all the children - and to allow Shamima Begum, 19, who left her home in London to join ISIS as a 15-year-old schoolgirl, to return with her newborn baby.
The children, from families with perceived or actual associations with ISIS, are separated from the rest of the population in the camps, which affects their ability to obtain access to aid and services. Most are living with their mothers, while unaccompanied children are with temporary caregivers.
In some cases, individuals from overseas who were recruited by ISIS as children are now mothers themselves. Some of the infants in the camps are merely days or weeks old.
While the authorities in North-East Syria continue to work to provide for the families, harsh winter conditions have left the camps in a desperate state, with children facing life-threatening risks.
Save the Children is working in three camps to provide much-needed support. However, further specialised protection, health and nutrition services are urgently required, as well as help for children to recover from the traumatic experiences they have lived through. Delivery of such services in a secure and healthy environment is not currently possible in North-East Syria.
Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns at Save the Children UK, said:
“All children with perceived and actual associations with ISIS are victims of the conflict and must be treated as such. We believe the best interests of the child are paramount and this means a child and mother should remain together whenever possible.
“Shamima Begum was radicalised as a child. She is now in a camp with her baby, surrounded by former ISIS members. It is crucial we get her back to Britain and a safe place to understand more completely what has happened to her. We are better than ISIS precisely because we uphold international laws and norms; our justice system is centuries old, we should trust in it.”
The current military push into the last remaining ISIS-held areas is likely to cause further displacement in the coming week and it is vital that countries of origin urgently take action to ensure the safety of their citizens caught up in the crisis, says Save the Children.
Since January, 560 foreign families, including more than 1,100 children, have entered the camps alongside thousands of Syrian families after fleeing the ongoing offensive in Hajin and Baghouz. They have joined thousands of other people who had been living in the camps since the offensive on Raqqa in 2017.
Children living under siege in ISIS-held areas have been deprived of adequate medical care and food for months or even years and are reaching displacement camps in desperate conditions, stretching the humanitarian response to breaking point.
At least 50 children died on the journey in January and February from hypothermia, malnutrition and medical conditions, according to the United Nations.
Save the Children is calling on countries of origin to repatriate these children and their families safely for the purposes of rehabilitation and/or reintegration, in full compliance with international law, including the right to a fair trial where appropriate following rights-based assessments of their needs.
Agreed international standards have established that access to support for recovery and rehabilitation is critical to resolving such situations. This access is not currently available in the displacement camps in Syria.
Save the Children argues that states should do everything possible to maintain family unity, and to provide the specialised protection, health, and other rehabilitative support that these children and their families will need on their return.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
•Through our programmes, Save the Children is aware of more than 2,500 foreign children living in camps in North-East Syria and is providing aid to a large number of these children.
•According to the UN, at least 50 children of Syrian, Iraqi and other nationalities died in January and February 2019 fleeing the ongoing offensive in Hajin and Baghouz or upon arrival at displacement camps.