Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 570, 24 November 2022

Human Rights Watch report on repatriation from Syria’s detention camps: Three takeaways
Farhan Hussain

On 21 November, Human Rights Watch released the report “My Son is Just Another Kid: Experiences of Children Repatriated from Camps for ISIS Suspects and Their Families in Northeast Syria.”  The report details the repatriation of foreign nationals from Syrian detention camps between February and September 2022 through interviewees, comprising caregivers, social workers, and teachers, and provides information on approximately 100 foreign children detained for being related to ISIS suspects. These children now reside in France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
 
Three takeaways
First, apathy of the Western countries towards their nationals. The report highlights how many of these countries are critical and strongly against repatriating their citizens, who willingly joined a globally recognized terrorist organization. For instance, France, Germany, and the Netherlands started repatriating their nationals only after legal pressure. As of November 2022, the Netherlands had repatriated 18 women and 44 children, which included 12 women and 28 children repatriated on 31 October 2022 after a court order. Similarly, France was forced to start repatriating more of its nationals after the European Court of Human Rights urged it to do so. Likewise, Germany had initially declined to repatriate several women with their children, citing security concerns. However, several German courts ruled that repatriating children without their mothers would violate German laws protecting family unity; only then did Germany oblige to repatriate more of their women. The report also highlights countries such as the UK and Canada have carried out the least number of repatriations; as of October 2022, the UK had repatriated one woman and her child, while Canada, as of November 2022, had repatriated three women and four children. Meanwhile, Russia and Central Asian countries have together repatriated about 1000 children, almost twice that of all Western countries combined.
 
Second, successful integration of repatriated children. Most of these children have been successfully integrated or reintegrated into their respective countries of origin. When asked about how the repatriated children were adjusting in their native countries, 70 per cent of the respondents (which included parents, family members, social workers, teachers, foster parents, lawyers, psychologists and legal guardians) said, “Very Well”, 19 per cent said, “Quite Well”, and only four per cent said “Having Difficulties.” On schooling, 38 per cent of the respondents said the children were doing very well, while 35 per cent said they were doing quite well and seven per cent said the children were having difficulties. On emotional and psychological well-being, 52 per cent said the children were doing very good, while 30 per cent said quite good and only six per cent said the children were having difficulties. These data reveal that the majority of the repatriated children had no issues in settling into their new living conditions.
 
Third, hindrances to the transition process. Even though most children settled into their new environments, the governments of several countries hindered the transition process. The separation of children from their mothers upon repatriation and arrival in their native countries is perhaps the most detrimental action the governments subjected the repatriated children to. The report emphasised the gravity of this situation point out that children who were separated from their mothers upon repatriation wanted to go back to the detention camps in Syria if that was the only way to be with their mothers. The authorities need to take the impact of separation into consideration even as they detain the mothers and come up with novel way to address this emerging issue.

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