In Syria, it is suspected that children whose fathers fought for terrorist group ISIL are being held in unidentified “settlements” and “secret detention facilities” away from their mothers, the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) said on May 21.
The UN office cited information suggesting that Kurdish authorities are responsible for holding youngsters over 12 years old in al-Hassakeh governorate, in the far north-east of the country.
“Reportedly, they are neither allowed to communicate with their families nor have the families been informed about their whereabouts or status”, OHCHR Spokesperson Marta Hurtado said.
In Syria alone – highlighting families of extremists who came to be part of the now militarily defeated so-called Caliphate – the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, estimates that there are close to 29,000 foreign children, most of them under the age of 12. Some 20,000 children are from Iraq, while more than 9,000 are from around 60 other countries.
Addressing the fate of thousands of vulnerable children of foreign fighters who are living in camps, detention centers and orphanages in Syria, Iraq and other places in the world, UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore said on Tuesday they were being forced to live in generally “appalling conditions”.
Underlining the “constant threats to their health, safety and wellbeing”, she said they were being “doubly rejected – stigmatized by their communities and shunned by their governments”.
In the statement, Ms. Fore also said the children faced “massive legal, logistical and political challenges in accessing basic services or returning to their countries of origin”.
With an additional 1,000 children of foreign fighters believed to be in Iraq, Ms. Fore said that “all of them are victims of deeply tragic circumstances and egregious violations of their rights” and reiterated the importance of “treating and caring for them as children.”
In a related development, OHCHR also expressed concern about the fate of people in Syria’s al-Hol camp – also in al-Hassakeh governorate – who fled the last ISIL-held areas in the country as they were being reclaimed by Kurdish-led forces. Today, the camp hosts more than 70,000 people who face dire living conditions.
This includes some 2,500 children under 12 years old who were born to ISIL-affiliated fathers and have been allowed to stay with their mothers.
While the temporary restrictions of movement imposed on civilians at al-Hol and in other camps for internally-displaced people run by the Kurdish authorities may be part of a screening and vetting process, Ms. Hurtado said that OHCHR was concerned about the “lack of clarity regarding how long these restrictions will last”.