UN urges 57 states to repatriate their citizens from refugee camps in Syria

UN delegation warns of human rights practices in Al-Hol and Roj centres
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REUTERS/ALI HASHISHO  -   Al-Hol IDP camp in Hasakah governorate, Syria

"Thousands of people held in the camps are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation in conditions and treatment that could amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law, and lack effective remedies. An unknown number have already died as a result of detention conditions," said the group of UN experts deployed to Syria's refugee camps.

A delegation of rapporteurs from the United Nations World Organisation has alerted more than fifty states, including Spain, to act against the situation in the camps for internally displaced persons and refugees in Al-Hol and Roj, located in the north of the country.

The experts advocate undertaking "collective, sustained and immediate action to avoid irreparable damage to the vulnerable people held there", given the large number of countries involved and the serious humanitarian conditions in the camps. This solution would involve the repatriation of some 10,000 people, including women and children associated with Daesh fighters.

The experts have sent letters to the governments of the 57 nations that reportedly have nationals in the camps to initiate the repatriation process, according to the organisation itself. International law requires states to repatriate their nationals and, if there is evidence, to prosecute adults for war crimes or other offences in fair trials in their courts.

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AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - A woman stands with children near a water tank in the Roj camp

As many as 9,462 foreign women and children are among the more than 64,600 people detained in Al-Hol and Roj camps. In the former, 80 per cent of the inmates are women and children. Both enclaves are run by the Syrian Kurdish authorities and host mostly Syrian and Iraqi populations.

Since the beginning of the year, moreover, several reports indicate a significant increase in violence inside these camps. In January, the United Nations reported the deaths of at least 14 people in Al-Hol. This centre houses internal refugees and families of Daesh fighters.

Three beheadings took place there, but also executions by shooting with weapons equipped with silencers, Shaykhmus Ahmed, head of the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in charge of the displaced, explained to AFP.

The victims included ten Iraqis and four Syrians, he said, blaming Daesh cells present in the camp. According to Ahmed, they attack "those who collaborate with the administration" with the aim of "sowing chaos and fear".

"The matter is of extreme urgency," said Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, a lawyer and UN special rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism, at a press conference following the joint statement. The Irish lawyer called the list of 57 countries a "list of shame". It is made up of nations such as China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the United States, among others.

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AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - A woman sits with children outside a tent in the Roj camp, which houses relatives of people accused of belonging to Daesh

"These women and children live in what can only be described as horrific and subhuman conditions... Conditions in these camps can reach the threshold of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law," said Ní Aoláin. The rapporteur denounced "an upsurge in the stripping of nationality" and recalled the illegality of rendering someone stateless. 

Deadlock in the Security Council

While the situation is worsening in the refugee and displaced persons camps, the war continues and the UN Security Council remains deadlocked due to the divergence of positions on Syria. Negotiations to revise the country's constitution ended without progress on 29 January.

The UN's top envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, once again urged the actors involved in the conflict to leave the trenches. However, the Norwegian diplomat called the negotiations "a missed opportunity" and warned negotiators that he would need "a credible commitment to ensure that, if the committee reconvenes, it will function properly, work quickly and achieve some results and continued progress".

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AP/MAYA ALLERUZZO - Al-Hol is home to more than 60,000 people, including 24,300 Syrians captured or displaced by the fighting to drive Daesh from its last piece of Syrian territory nearly two years ago

Pedersen suggested to the media that it was then the Syrian government delegation that was to blame for the lack of progress. Nevertheless, there seems to be a definite roadmap. Recent press releases moved towards a Council resolution adopted on 30 June 2012 by representatives of the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, Turkey and the five permanent members of the Security Council.

It includes the initiation of a Syrian-led political process beginning with the establishment of a transitional government to draft a new constitution and ending with UN-supervised elections. This resolution adds that the elections must meet "the highest international standards" of transparency and accountability, and that all Syrians - including displaced persons - can participate.