More Than 2,500 Foreign Children are Living in Camps in North-East Syria, Says Save the Children

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (February 20, 2019) – More than 2,500 children from over 30 countries are living in three camps for people displaced in North-East Syria, Save the Children revealed today. Among the children, 38 are unaccompanied, according to the agency, which is urging the international community to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of all the children.

The children, from families with perceived or actual associations with ISIS, are separated from the rest of the population in the camps. This separation affects their ability to obtain access to aid and services. Most are living with their mothers, while the 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 just 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 specialized protection, as well as health and nutrition services are urgently required. Additionally, specific support is needed to help children 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.

“All children with perceived and actual associations with ISIS, are victims of the conflict and must be treated as such. All states whose nationals are trapped in Syria must take responsibility for their citizens,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director.

“While some states have begun to do so, many countries – including several European countries – have yet to take steps to ensure the safety of the children and their families. Given the life-threatening dangers these children and their families face in Syria, this is unconscionable.

“Like millions of Syrian children, they have lived through conflict, bombardment and acute deprivation. They need specialized help to recover from their experiences and return to normality, together with their families. This is impossible in overwhelmed displacement camps in a volatile warzone. The international community must act now before it is too late.”

The current military push into the last remaining ISIS-held areas is likely to cause further displacement in the coming weeks. 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 others 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. They 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 specialized protection, health, and other rehabilitative support that these children and their families will need upon their return.

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