As the people of north-west Syria face intensifying violence, tens of thousands of women and children continue to be kept in “inhumane conditions” in a remote camp on the other side of the country, UN-appointed independent investigators said.
Describing the situation at Al Hol camp as “appalling”, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria called on the international community to act.
Most of the 3,500 children held there lack birth registration documents, the Commission said in its latest report on the conflict.
They risk being left stateless because Member States appear unwilling to repatriate them, fearing extremist links, panel chair Paulo Pinheiro explained.
“Up to 70,000 individuals remain interned in deplorable and inhumane conditions at Al Hol camp, the vast majority of whom are women and children under the age of 12,” he said.
Making an impassioned appeal on behalf of older children from 12 to 18, questioning whether allegations and suspicions of terrorist affiliation levelled against them were correct, he said that the Commission “finds this completely appalling.”
According to the Commission’s report, this violence destroyed infrastructure “essential to the survival of the civilian population, including hospitals, markets, educational facilities and agricultural resources, and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee”.
The Commission’s 21-page report also highlights hostilities in the east that included the “large-scale operations” by the US-led international coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces causing “near complete destruction of widespread destruction” of towns and villages in and around Hajin and Baghuz in Deir ez Zor, Mr. Pinheiro noted.
In areas reclaimed by the Government – such as Dar’a in the south and Duma near Damascus – civilians, including recent returnees, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, the report maintains. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in both locations also lack adequate access to water, electricity and education, the report adds.
According to the Commission’s report, the humanitarian response to needs at Al Hol “remains woefully inadequate”, with hundreds of preventable deaths recorded.
At least 390 children have died from malnutrition or untreated infected wounds, the investigators said.
In addition, much-needed psychological support is only provided on a limited basis to Yazidi women and children, who fled ISIL massacres in neighbouring Iraq in 2014.
Well over eight years of war have now displaced 13 million people, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, amid violence involving Government-backed forces, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) opposition fighters and the US-led international coalition, as well as Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).