UN human rights experts* today called on Switzerland to repatriate two sisters, aged 9 and 14, who are being held at a squalid camp in north-eastern Syria after they were allegedly abducted by their mother five years ago when she went to join Islamic State fighters.
The two fathers of the girls, who both live in Geneva, have asked the Swiss Government to take the necessary steps to repatriate their daughters who were ostensibly taken by their mother on a vacation in August 2016, but ended up in Syria.
“Children should not have to bear the terrible burden of simply being born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups,” the experts said.
“Deprived of their liberty for several years already in the camp of Al-Hol and then in Roj, denied of their right to return to Switzerland and be reunited with their families, the detention of these two children increasingly exposes them to all kinds of abuse.”
The half-sisters’ medical situation is of great concern, the experts added. The eldest girl has anaemia and is believed to have suffered a severe shrapnel wound to her leg. She is said to have undergone three operations. The youngest girl is also believed to be in poor health. There are serious concerns they might both be lacking necessary medical care, including specific health services and orthopaedic devices for the eldest.
The experts expressed deep concern about the humanitarian situation of the girls whose situation of vulnerability is exacerbated by the complex and uncertain environment, and the makeshift, squalid and precarious conditions of the camps in north-eastern Syria.
Children detained for association with armed groups should be recognised as victims of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law; their rehabilitation and reintegration and, if possible, family reunification should always be a priority, they said.
The girls’ mother was arrested by the Syrian Democratic Forces and transferred, along with her daughters, to the Roj camp in the summer of 2019, where they are still reportedly being held today.
“The detention of these two Swiss girls in these conditions is contrary to their best interests and contravenes international human rights conventions to which Switzerland is a party,” the experts said. “In this respect, Switzerland’s position not to actively intervene to repatriate the mother of the two children should not be a reason to leave these two girls in such a distressing situation in which they are held now.”
The Swiss authorities have a duty to ensure effective protection of their nationals abroad, especially those in a situation of vulnerability, including children, and in this case particularly girls, where they are at risk of serious human rights violations or abuses, they said.
Several thousand children are still living in camps in north-eastern Syria in similar conditions to those of these two girls. “The return of children to their country of origin is a humanitarian imperative and human rights obligation. The repatriation of these two children should not be further delayed,” the experts said.