U.N. Urges 57 Countries To Reclaim Women And Children From Syrian Camps

On Monday, February 8th, U.N. rights experts urged 57 states to repatriate women and children who are being held in camps associated with Islamic State fighters in northeast Syria. According to Reuters, the citizens are being held under “sub-human” conditions without legitimate process. Experts explained that under international law, the states have a duty to repatriate every citizen, and if there is evidence, they can also prosecute adults for war crimes or other offenses in their domestic courts. The camps are run by Syrian Kurdish authorities, which hold internal refugees and families of Islamic State fighters. An estimate of 64,600 people are currently detained at Al-Hol and Roj camps, with the majority of residents being Iraqi and Syrian nationals and almost 10,000 being women and children.

The U.N. reporter on human rights protection, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, explains the matter is severely critical while countering terrorism. Along with some experts, she called the list of 57 countries who has yet to act on this demanding situation – including Britain, China, France, the Russian Federation, and the United States – the “list of shame.” By declaring that it is unlawful to leave someone stateless, she further says, “These women and children are living in what can only be described as horrific and sub-human conditions.” The conditions in these camps may reach the threshold of torture and degrading treatment under international law. According to Ní Aoláin, some of the women had been found online and called up as brides of Islamic State fighters, while the children in the camps had no say in how they got there. Some nations have reportedly rescued their citizens, but far too many have declared their inability to follow their example. BBC News reported an announcement from the Finnish foreign ministry, who stated that the camps in northeast Syria constitute a long-term security risk. He also added, “The longer the children remain in the camps, without protection and education, the harder it will be to counter radical extremism.”

Accordingly to Reuters, Canada, Finland, and Kazakhstan have repatriated some nationals, but many European nations have resisted repatriating their nationals from the camps because of the security risks. Taking precautions in this situation is understandable, however, these camps violate human rights, as well as children’s rights, and it calls for a rescue mission. The European countries along with the UN must take responsibility to ensure safety for these women and children. The three nations mentioned above are leading by example in finding a solution to this matter, and their actions should be further considered by other states. As mentioned, the UK and the U.S. among other countries have been shamed for not repatriating their citizens, and they must begin to recognize how they can improve their foreign policy and provide security for their nationals.

Throughout the past decade, UN Women has declared their constant work to illustrate the needs of women refugees in Syria, including protection and promoting their role as participants in conflict-resolution and eventual recovery. By being made objects of hate, ridicule, and shame, these women and children are symbols for the state and the people to fear the group. Last month, the UN reported it had received reports of 12 Syrian and Iraqi nationals being murdered in the first half of January at Al-Hol camp. Additionally, BBC News reported a famous case involving Shamima Begum, a UK citizen who joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as a teenager in 2015. Five years after joining, she finally won her appeal to return to her nation. However, while waiting to return, Shamima’s newborn son died in the Syrian refugee camp, being the third of her children to die since she arrived in the war-torn country. These cases are two of many horrifying tragedies that have occurred in the Syrian camps, clearly revealing the urgency of the situation. 

The UN urges for immediate. The camps are currently holding refugees and families of Islamic State fighters, and their status will remain the same if these nations reject to provide a response. The citizens are being held under inhumane conditions which puts pressure on the UN to have all countries plan for a peaceful solution. Human rights are being violated every day in the camps of northeast Syria, and this issue must be highlighted in all countries involved. Security is a fundamental right for these women and children, who are currently being refused this crucial form of comfort and protection.

Olivia Berntsson