(New York, November 21, 2022) – Many children repatriated from detention camps for Islamic State (ISIS) suspects and their families in northeast Syria are successfully reintegrating in their home countries, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Governments should remove any barriers to effective reintegration and ensure that their return policies are not causing unnecessary harm to their child nationals.
The report, “‘My Son is Just Another Kid’: Experiences of Children Repatriated from Camps for ISIS Suspects and Their Families in Northeast Syria,” documents the experiences of approximately 100 children who have been repatriated or returned to France, Germany, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan between 2019 and 2022. Human Rights Watch found that despite years of detention in life-threatening conditions with insufficient water, fresh food, and health care, and little to no access to education, many of the children appear to be adjusting well and performing well in school. Many have reintegrated smoothly and enjoy a wide range of activities with their peers, including football, skating, cycling, dancing, crafts, and music.
A New Chance in Life
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Yunus, 8 years old, France
Yunus (in French)
I play football, go to music lessons, and I’m going to be a veterinarian when I grow up.
Yunus was among thousands of children unlawfully detained in camps in northeast Syria for Islamic State (ISIS) suspects and their family members.
He’s been living with his grandparents in France for the past two and a half years.
Yunus’s grandmother (in French)
My grandson has settled in very well at school, he has friends, he is good at math and very curious. Interested in all subjects.
Yunus was held in al-Hol, the main detention camp. His mother was killed in an airstrike in 2018 and his father is imprisoned in northeast Syria.
Al-Hol and Roj camps unlawfully detain nearly 40,000 foreign women and children from around 60 countries.
Eighty percent of the children are under age 12. They live in life-threatening conditions. Hundreds of children have died from preventable diseases, accidents, and camp violence, including attacks by ISIS supporters.
All governments with nationals detained in northeast Syria should urgently ensure they can return home, giving priority to children and their mothers.
Human Rights Watch contacted family members, caregivers, social workers and psychologists for repatriated children in seven countries. Respondents said that most of the children are doing well.
They are enjoying school and making new friends. Some are at the top of their class.
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Ibrahim, 9 years old, Kazakhstan
Ibrahim returned to Kazakhstan with his mother in 2019.
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He enjoys dancing and scootering. He is joyful, open and self-confident.
Some repatriated children live with their grandparents or other extended family members. Despite the challenges they have experienced, our research found that with proper support, now many can fully enjoy their childhood.
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Sarah, 6 years old, Sweden
Sarah and her siblings returned to Sweden after their parents were killed in Syria. Now they live with foster families, but visit their grandfather regularly.
Grandfather of seven repatriated children
My 6-year-old granddaughter loves to use her hands and her imagination for artistic creativity. The recovery of the children is fully possible. My grandchildren are the proof of that. They have had an amazing recovery.
The key to this is a quick and safe repatriation to their countries. All children should have the opportunity to get a new chance in life.
November 21, 2022Report
November 21, 2022News Release