Nearly 28,000 children from over 60 countries are stranded in northeastern Syria due to a recent escalation in the conflict, according to UNICEF. The organization urged governments to repatriate these children before it is too late.
Nearly 28,000 foreign children from over 60 countries are stranded in northeastern Syria, mostly in camps for displaced people, Henrietta Fore said in a statement published on Monday. Fore is the executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"The latest escalation in northeast Syria brings a renewed urgency for governments to repatriate foreign children stranded in the area before it is too late," she said. "National governments have the responsibility and opportunity now to do the right thing and bring these children and their parents home where they can receive adequate care and be safe from violence and abuse."
Some 20,000 of the minors come from Iraq, UNICEF said. Over 80% of these children are under 12 and 50% are under five.
"At least 250 boys, some as young as nine years old, are held in detention, though the actual numbers are likely to be much higher," the UN organization said.
UNICEF renewed its calls for urgent action from member states and parties to the conflict. "Our message to governments is unequivocal: The best interests of children should be a primary consideration at all times," said Fore.
"Detention should only be a measure of last resort and for the shortest time possible," UNICEF said. "Children should not be detained based solely on suspected family ties with armed groups or the membership of family members in armed groups. If children are suspected of having committed a crime, they should be treated in line with the principles of juvenile justice, with a focus on their rehabilitation and return to civilian life."
Minors need protection
"These children urgently need adequate care and protection," said Fore. "We know that at least 17 countries have already repatriated more than 650 children -- many of whom are now living with family members, including in some cases, their mothers who have returned with them. [The] children are safe, attending schools and recovering from their experiences of war."