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European Parliament calls for repatriation of children from Syrian camps

The European Parliament has called for the repatriation of children from European Union countries held in Kurdish-run camps in northeastern Syria since the collapse of the Islamic State group. Most EU member states, and other western countries including the UK and Canada, have so far refused to implement policies to bring home their own nationals, although some have repatriated children, mostly orphans, on an ad hoc basis.

Repatriation should also apply for ISIS ex-fighters, as they should be tried at courts in their home countries. The European Parliament resolution also said: “EU nationals suspected of belonging to terrorist organizations and detained in those camps should be tried in a court of law”. The Parliament also called on EU states to continue to offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees, after Denmark earlier this month became the first EU member state to withdraw residency rights from Syrian refugees, after the government ruled that it was safe for 94 from the Damascus area to return home.

Human rights groups have called on states to repatriate their nationals, especially women and children, who have no reason to be withheld in detention. Repatriation should occur on the basis of compliance with international law and because detention camps in Syria cannot be deemed safe. Humanitarian and human rights organisations have previously raised concerns about “violent, unsanitary and inhumane” conditions in the camps that have led to the avoidable deaths of hundreds of babies and infants. UN Special Rapporteurs said in a report that “Thousands of people held in the camps are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation in conditions and treatment that may well amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law, with no effective remedy at their disposal. An unknown number have already died because of their conditions of detention”. Unicef last month called for repatriation and reintegration of all children being held in the camps, after at least three died and 15 were injured in a fire at al-Hol.

In sum, it is time states, including European Union Member States, show leadership in repatriating their nationals and comply with international law standards. The Center therefore call on states to repatriate the nationals who are being held in detention camps, especially in the cases of women and children. For moral reasons, EU Member States should not leave their citizens, especially women and children, in the inhumane conditions present in detention camps. On legal grounds, non-repatriation contradicts fundamental rights and principles of international law. In the case of repatriation, leaving EU citizens in Syria, including ex-ISIS fighters, presents the risk that these individuals may be tried in unjust conditions and applied the death penalty. Members or suspected members of terrorist organizations should be tried in European courts. Furthermore, the death penalty is fundamentally opposed to the right to life, which is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The frontal opposition as a matter of principle of the EU to the death penalty should be an incentive  not to allow this. The Copenhaguen criteria clearly states that only a country which has abolished the death penalty can become a member of the European Union. Member States should honor this commitment that was fundamental to their accession in to the European Union.

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