Many children in Syria have never known a life outside a refugee camp | Photo: Picture-alliance/Sebastian Backhaus
Many children in Syria have never known a life outside a refugee camp | Photo: Picture-alliance/Sebastian Backhaus

Thousands of children from families with real or suspected links to IS militias are living in separate areas of refugee camps in northeastern Syria, Save the Children says. The aid organization says harsh winter conditions are putting the children at increased risk and has called on countries to 'take responsibility for their citizens'.

More than 2,500 children from 30 countries are confined to special areas in three camps for displaced people in the northeast of Syria, Save the Children says. They include nearly 40 unaccompanied minors.

The US-based organization says the children face "life-threatening dangers" from the winter weather, and has called on the countries to act to protect their citizens.

The organization says the children need professional help to recover from their experiences and to return to normal life with their families. "The international community must act now before it is too late," said Sonia Kush, Syria Response Director with Save the Children.

"All children with perceived and actual associations with ISIS are victims of the conflict and must be treated as such."

Separation increasing risk to children

Save the Children is working in three camps in Syria’s northeast. It says the children whose families are linked to IS are separated from the rest of the population within the camps. Most of the children are living with their mothers. At least 38 unaccompanied children are with "temporary caregivers," the aid group says.

Among the separated groups are young women who were recruited by IS as children and have become mothers themselves, Save the Children says. Some of the infants in the camps are just days old.

The organization says the children’s separation from the rest of the population in the camps, now experiencing harsh winter conditions, has made it harder to deliver aid to them.

Some who have been living in the IS sections for months or years have received insufficient medical care and food, according to Save the Children.

The organization called on the countries from which the children and families come to allow them to return. It said they should be integrated and the adults should be granted the right to a fair trial.

Citizenship debate

The statement from Save the Children comes amid debate about how countries should deal with former IS fighters, brides and children.

The United States on Wednesday said that Hoda Muthana, a 24-year-old woman who joined IS in Syria, is not a US citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. Muthana remains in Kurdish custody with her baby son. She has said she was brainwashed by IS after she left the United States, the country of her birth, in 2014.

At the same time, US President Trump has said that European countries should repatriate and bring to trial their citizens who joined IS.

Another young IS member from Britain, 19-year-old Shamima Begum, who is now in a refugee camp in Syria, has also had her UK citizenship revoked.


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