Foreign nationals die in squalid Syrian detention camps, rights experts say


UN human rights experts said “ an unknown number” of foreign nationals had died because of their conditions of detention at the Al Hol and Roj camps in northeast Syria, expressing serious concerns on the refugees’ deteriorating security and humanitarian situation.

The camp is home to over 64,000 people, mostly the widowed wives and orphaned children of extremists. Rights experts have urged the governments of 57 unnamed countries to repatriate their nationals without delay.

Leading the appeal, Fionnuala NíAoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, said that many western Europeans countries could do more to bring them home.

“I think of the many grandmothers I have spoken to over the course of the last couple years, many of whom are literally watching their grandchildren starve on cell phones in western countries that refuse to return their mothers and children,” Ms. NíAoláin said.

At the Al-Hol camp – the largest camp for refugees and internally displaced people in Syria – more than 80% of those being held are women and children, according to a statement released by Ms. NíAoláin and more than 20 other UN rights experts, who are appointed by Member States.

The situation is equally distressing in Roj camp, also in northeast Syria.

“Thousands of people held in the camps are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation in conditions and treatment that may well amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law, with no effective remedy at their disposal.”

“An unknown number have already died because of their conditions of detention,” the experts said in a statement.

Although some countries had managed to bring back their nationals, others had not, despite having “just a handful” of detainees in Syria, Ms. NíAoláin said.

She dismissed claims that cooperation was not possible with non-State armed groups – such as the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) – to secure their release, along with suggestions that wealthy western countries lacked the resources to rehabilitate and reintegrate all those still being held in Syria.

“I would urge those countries to take back their nationals; the SDF, the ‘de facto’ authorities do not want these individuals in their camps, they are pleading for them to be taken home”, the Special Rapporteur said.

There was no reason but a lack of political will to explain why some countries with “just a handful” of detainees being held in Syria had not made more efforts to get them home, she said, adding that some States had been successful in liberating their nationals.

“We have other countries including the United States which has offered and supported many of these returns, we have many other countries willing to help. There is no viable excuse other than political will that explains the lack of returns in these places.”

The call for urgent action follows reports of increased violence in the camps since the start of the year.

Underlining Ms. NíAoláin’s warning that failing to help those languishing in the camps risked creating a new generation of extremists, the experts added that the sheer number of countries concerned “and the dire humanitarian conditions of the camps highlighted the need for collective, sustained and immediate action to prevent irreparable harm to the persons in vulnerable situations held there”. (Source: UN News)