European States’ Obligations to Repatriate the Children Detained in Camps in Northeast Syria
Since the territorial collapse of ISIS in 2019, thousands of women and children believed to be affiliated with ISIS have been held in makeshift detention camps in northeast Syria, under inhumane and life-threatening conditions. An estimated 1,000 European women and children are currently detained in the camps—the vast majority of whom are children. France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are among the major European countries of origin for these detainees.
Despite repeated calls from national and international actors, European States have invoked legal arguments, logistical difficulties, and security concerns to systematically refuse to repatriate the children. European States have generally addressed the problem on a case-by-case basis, using unclear and non-transparent criteria for determining who is repatriated. A human rights-driven approach is needed.
Considering the dire situation in the camps, it is effectively impossible for these children prove their European nationality. If European States do not provide assistance to their nationals, there is, in practice, no way for children to get travel documents, return to their countries, or contest the arbitrary detention, inhuman and degrading treatment, and other human rights violations they are being subjected to.
Legal challenges are now being filed in various fora in response to the failure of European governments to repatriate their child nationals together with the children’s primary caregivers. This legal briefing paper is intended to assist litigators and other advocates in advancing creative approaches to address this seemingly intractable problem. The paper seeks to provide an overview of the main European and international legal standards that can be invoked by litigators and advocates to argue for the proactive repatriation of the children detained in camps in northeast Syria, together with their primary caregivers.i
Why Hundreds of European Children Living in Syrian Camps Must Be Repatriated
After more than two years of turning a blind eye to the dire situation of children in the camps in northeast Syria, it’s time European states fulfilled their responsibilities and repatriated them with their primary caregivers.
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