UN human rights experts have called on Tunisia to urgently repatriate six women and girls, aged between 3 and 22 years, who are being held in inhumane conditions at Al-Hol and al-Amarnah camps in northeast Syria.
In 2014, four girls aged between 6 and 14 were abducted by their mother and taken to Syria. They were captured in 2019 by Kurdish forces and have been deprived of their liberty since with no legal process justifying their detention. One of the girls is still a minor, and the oldest one has two daughters under the age of 5.
“These young women and their children should be considered first and foremost as victims and treated as such,” the UN experts said. “Instead, they have been abandoned by their own country for their mother’s alleged links or affiliation to a designated terrorist group.”
They have been held for more than three years, absent any legal process, for unclear reasons and without any charges having been brought against them, the experts said. Their medical situation is of great concern, with three of the girls reportedly wounded by grenades before their capture in 2019. The al-Amarnah camp, where the eldest captive and her two daughters are being held, is reportedly under the control of the Turkish authorities and remains inaccessible to humanitarian organisations including ICRC.
“The security and humanitarian situation of these young girls, including their risk to gender-based violence, in such a fluid, uncertain and squalid environment as the camps and other detention centres in Syria is a matter of utmost concern,” the experts said. The squalid conditions in the camps pose a serious threat to their human rights. They added the recent attacks on prisons holding suspects linked to ISIL and the seriously worrying security situation at Al-Hol camp, where at least one of the girls is being held, underlined the urgency for their return home.
Their father has contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior to obtain assistance from the Tunisian authorities for their repatriation, without any success.
“International law is very clear. States and other parties to an armed conflict must not detain children, even for preventive purposes,” the experts said. “As they were coerced into Syria when they were minors, the risks of trafficking /re-trafficking and sexual exploitation of children are very real. Victims or potential victims of trafficking should never be placed in detention but should instead receive support and assistance.
“The Tunisian authorities have a duty to ensure the return of these six Tunisian nationals and to find a durable solution to their situation. The protection of their life, physical and mental well-being, and all their rights, should be a matter of utmost priority for the government.
“We call on the Tunisian authorities to exercise due diligence and take positive and effective measures to protect the life of these Tunisian nationals in a situation of vulnerability, and ensure that their family in Tunisia receives the necessary support and protection from any possible reprisals that may result from their repatriation.”
The Government of Tunisia has been in contact with the experts on this case since early 2021.