UN experts denounce inhuman conditions in Syria’s Al-Hol and Roj camps

Syrian children in a refugee camp Syrian children in a refugee camp Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash

08 February 2021

Human rights experts urged 57 states to repatriate their citizens held in northeast Syria camps in squalid conditions

Nearly 10,000 foreign nationals from 57 countries, mainly women and children associated to Islamic State’s fighters, are currently held in the northeast Syrian camps of Al-Hol and Roj. UN human rights experts have repeatedly expressed serious concerns at the humanitarian and security conditions of the camps, defining them “sub-human”. Now, they went further by urging those 57 States whose nationals are held there to repatriate them without delay. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, told the press that this issue is one of extreme urgency as “the condition in these camps may reach the threshold of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law”. Moreover, she added that “an unknown number have already died because of their conditions of detentions”.

According to the UN human rights experts, “States have a primary responsibility to act with due diligence and take positive steps to protect individuals in vulnerable situations outside of their territory, notably women and children, who are suffering from human rights violations and abuses”. However, governments of these countries are reluctant to repatriate them, arguing that they could have radicalized in the camps and that it will be difficult to prosecute or convict alleged ISIS fighters and their wives for their crimes due to lack of evidence. This could mean minimal sentences for those who may be free after a few years of detention. As for now, just Canada, Finland and Kazakhstan have repatriated some nationals, while the rest, including Britain, China, France, Russia and the US decided not to do so.

Particularly critical is the situation of those women and children associated with ISIS foreign fighters who have not committed any crime but at the same time are forced to live in the camps. Of course there are women and children who have been involved in ISIS-related activities, but that is not the case for all of them. Some women were just coerced to marry ISIS fighters against their will, and many children had no choice but to follow their parents who chose to join the group. The unwillingness by countries to repatriate their citizens leaves these women and children stateless and with nowhere to go, condemning them to rely on the decision by their countries and the Kurdish authorities administrating the camps.   

To learn more, please visit:





Author: Michele Pitta; Editor: Silvia Luminati

Read 2053 times