Children caught up in al Hasakah prison violence must be evacuated to safety

Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore on the situation of children held in military detention in northeast Syria

25 January 2022

NEW YORK, 25 January 2022 – “We have received deeply worrisome reports of fatalities among children in the Ghwayran military detention facility, in al-Hasakah, northeast Syria. We are also deeply concerned by reports that children trapped inside the facility may be forced to play an active part in the ongoing clashes between detainees and security forces.

“Almost 850 children, some as young as 12 years old, are currently in detention in northeast Syria, most of them are held in Ghwayran facility. The majority of these children are Syrian and Iraqi boys while the rest are of 20 other nationalities. None of them has been charged with any crime under national or international law. The children of foreign nationals have received little to no support from their home countries.

“These children should never have been held in military detention in the first place. The violence they are subjected to may amount to war crimes.

“UNICEF has long been concerned about the children detained in this facility due to the overall poor physical conditions, limited services, over-crowding and lack of appropriate health and sanitary care. Children have little to no contact with their families, have no access to education, and face an uncertain fate.

“We call upon all parties and those with influence over them to adhere to their responsibilities to protect civilians and those hors de combat, and to prioritize the safety of all children inside Ghwayran prison and in Hasakah city. In particular:

  • “We call on all parties in northeast Syria to ensure the physical protection and well-being of children present in the detention facility, as well as children in the surrounding areas. Any measures to restore calm in the detention facility should be guided by the appropriate use of force. During hostilities, all parties must take all feasible precautions and adhere to the principles of distinction and proportionality.
  • “We also call upon all parties to reach a negotiated solution that ends unnecessary suffering and loss of life, especially for children who have already experienced years of armed conflict. A first step should be to open a safe corridor for humanitarians and others to access and evacuate the children in the detention facility, with a view to providing them with the urgent care and protection they need. Children and persons hors de combat, including the sick and the wounded, are entitled to protection and humanitarian assistance.
  • “We urge the actors currently in control of the detention facility and the detaining authorities to unconditionally release all children, starting with the youngest and those with urgent medical and other needs.
  • “If and when children are evacuated to a safe location, humanitarian actors, without any distinction, should be granted unimpeded and sustained access to the children for emergency care and assistance.
  • “We also plead with Member States to do everything in their power to repatriate children who are their citizens or born to their nationals, in line with international child protection and human rights standards. Member States who can support these efforts should do so.

“The time to act is long overdue.”

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