Canada urged to repatriate orphaned five-year-old girl held in Syrian camp

GENEVA (20 May 2020) – UN experts today called on Canada to secure the urgent release and repatriation of a five-year-old orphaned girl being held in inhuman conditions in north-eastern Syria’s overcrowded Al-Hol camp.

“Canada has an obligation to intervene in favour of its nationals abroad, particularly if there are reasonable grounds to believe that their non-derogable human rights have been violated,” said the experts.

“Within this context, special care must be taken for children, particularly if their parents are dead,” the experts emphasized.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic in play, and thus in a time of new vulnerabilities for children, the return of this orphaned child to Canada and reunion with her family/relatives is even more urgent.” 

After her parents – suspected of affiliation with ISIL – were reportedly killed in a 2019 airstrike, she was taken to Al-Hol camp, which houses an estimated 70,000 people, including more than 40,000 children.

“Living conditions of children in Al-Hol camp are inhumane. Deprived of liberty, lacking of basic care, of sufficient food, of shelter from the elements, of safe water, of adequate sanitation, of medical care and of education, they are exposed to harassment, violence and exploitation,” the experts said. “All of these realities pose extreme harm to her.”

“Children like her should be regarded primarily as victims and treated as such. Their best interest should be the primary concern in all actions affecting them. They should not be punished because of the presumed behaviour or affiliation of their parents,” they added.

The human rights experts reminded the Canadian government that children enjoy special protection in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. “The child finds herself in a situation that fails to comply with the most basic standards of humanity. She is in a situation unfit for children and urgently in need of adequate care and protection,” said the experts.

Canada has “primary responsibility” for ensuring that she is treated with humanity and respect of her dignity and human rights. The child has relatives in Canada who have already gone to extreme lengths to bring her back from Syria, the Canadian government should consolidate and deepen its efforts to enable her safe return.

“Partnerships can be optimised and assistance obtained from other State partners and non-State actors which have direct control over territory, to extract individuals from camps, including Al-Hol. Canada’s practical challenges, including lack of consular representation on site, should not obstruct her return.”

“Returning children is a humanitarian and human rights imperative,” the UN experts concluded.

The Government of Canada has been in contact with the experts on the aforementioned issues.