UN calls on states to repatriate children imprisoned in Al-Ghuwayran Prison

Daesh insurgents have seized control of the children's unit of Al-Ghuwayran prison in north-eastern Syria, where more than 700 children are being held

PHOTO/AFP  -   Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) deploy around Ghwayran prison in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh on January 25, 2022, which was seized by Islamic State (IS) fighters days earlier

In the Al-Hasakeh area, the violent clashes started last Thursday by two car bombs and heavy weapons have not ceased, these clashes have moved to Al-Ghuwayran prison. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 70 Daesh members and more than 20 Kurdish fighters are estimated to have been killed, in addition to prison guards, members of anti-terrorist forces and internal security forces. More than 5,000 suspected Daesh jihadist militants from around 60 countries are held in the prison and have taken control of the prison's children's unit.

More than 700 children are incarcerated in Al-Ghuwayran prison in Al-Hasakeh, northeastern Syria. A UN human rights special rapporteur expressed concern for the welfare of the children and called on all countries to repatriate all nationals detained in the Syrian prison. Last week, in the same prison, there was a deadly escape attempt by Daesh insurgents. 

AFP/AFP - Location map of Hasakeh in Syria

"Children as young as 12 live in fear for their lives amid the chaos and carnage in the prison," said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. "Tragically they are being neglected by their own countries through no fault of their own, except that they were born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups," she added. "The treatment of hundreds of children who have been detained in grotesque prison conditions is an affront to the dignity of the child and the right of every child to be treated with dignity," she stressed.

The situation inside the prison is becoming increasingly tense, as are concerns for the physical safety of the inmates. As a result, fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of Kurds and members of the US-led coalition, are close to the area where the Daesh attackers are located in order to carry out an offensive and provoke the fall of power established by the jihadists.  

PHOTO/AFP - Displaced Syrians are photographed inside the Mosaab bin Aamir Mosque in the Ghwayran neighbourhood of the northern city of Hasakeh.

In the face of this situation, humanitarian groups have again called on governments to repatriate their citizens from prison, with a greater emphasis on children. "The abject refusal of states to repatriate their children is a contributing factor to the security and human rights quagmire that has flared up in al-Hasakeh in recent days," said Ni Aolain, who last year sent a series of official letters to 57 governments of countries, including Germany, the US, Finland, France and the UK, which are suspected of having citizens in the Syrian camps.

The children are being deprived of their liberty, living in inhumane conditions, facing cruel treatment and torture, in total violation of human rights because they have been unjustly detained and have never faced a legal process to assess their situations. "The failure of governments to repatriate child detainees, who are victims of terrorism and in need of protection under international law, beggars belief," said Ni Aolain. "Many of these children, forcibly separated from their mothers and families in recent years, have been denied their most fundamental human rights for their entire lives," she added. 

PHOTO/AFP - Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) deploy around Ghwayran prison in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh, 25 January 2022.

Ni Aolain has therefore called on states and others in northeastern Syria to ensure the protection of civilians, as well as the protection of child prisoners from the fighters who are trying to regain control of the prison. "Treating children as a distinct class, refusing to recognise in practice their rights as children, is a form of gender discrimination that has had horrific consequences for these children now caught up in the violent confrontation in Al-Hasakeh prison."

The refusal by states to repatriate citizens, and in particular children, is an issue that the UN Special Rapporteurs fail to understand, but nevertheless urge states to work together to protect children and their human rights. Human Rights Watch, Unicef and Save the Children have also expressed concern about the situation in the prison.