UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

Beirut (AFP) –


The UN children's agency called Sunday for all minors held in displacement camps or jails in northeast Syria to be allowed home.

UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol, for people displaced in the fight against the Islamic State group.

After years of leading the US-backed fight against IS, Syria's Kurds hold thousands of alleged jihadist fighters in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria.

They hail from Syria, neighbouring Iraq and dozens of other foreign countries.

Many are children.

"In the northeast of Syria, there are more than 22,000 foreign children from at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children," UNICEF regional director Ted Chaiban said in a statement, without giving a number of children held in jails.

He urged authorities in the northeast of Syria and UN member states to "do everything possible to bring children currently in the northeast of Syria back home".

They should do this "through integrating Syrian children in their local communities and the repatriation of foreign children," he added.

The Kurdish authorities have started sending thousands of displaced Syrians home from the camps.

But repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and even fewer women being brought home.

Three children and a woman died on Saturday after a stove exploded in the Al-Hol camp, starting a fire, a Kurdish official said.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at least 26 were injured.

Al-Hol is home to more than 62,000 people, displaced family members and relatives of alleged IS fighters, more than half of them children, it says.

A spate of killings, including decapitations, has rocked the camp since the start of the year, and humanitarian actors have repeatedly deplored living conditions there.

On February 1, the Save the Children charity also urged Iraq and Western countries to repatriate children from northeast Syria faster.

IS overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.

Kurdish-led forces backed air strikes by a US-led coalition expelled IS from their last patch of territory in Syria in March 2019, in a battle that displaced tens of thousands.