Syria crisis

Syria Kurds seek help in rehabilitating ISIS-linked minors

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Syria’s Kurds Friday urged international help to set up rehabilitation centers for minors linked to ISIS, after charges they were holding “hundreds of children” in adult prisons.

Acknowledging that some terrorist-linked minors were being held in adult prisons, separate to the many more in camps, senior Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdelkarim Omar told AFP around 30 teenagers have lately been transferred out of one overcrowded camp.

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He spoke just days after the International Committee of the Red Cross said “hundreds of children -- mostly boys, some as young as 12 -- are detained in adult prisons” in northeast Syria.

Kurdish authorities hold thousands of suspected jihadist fighters in their jails, as well as tens of thousands of their relatives in camps for the displaced, after spearheading a US-backed battle against ISIS that formally ended in victory in early 2019.

Omar told AFP an unspecified number of ISIS-linked minors who are held in jails are kept in separate quarters to the adults.

He said the region desperately needed more rehabilitation centers for teenagers, on top of a single one already housing some 120 near the city of Qamishli.

“We think children do not belong in either camps or prisons,” he told AFP.

As a start, he said, “between 30 to 35 children aged 12 and older have been taken out of the Al-Hol camp.”

The Kurds were preparing a new rehabilitation center in the city of Hasakeh, which “will be ready in the coming days,” Omar added.

Since Kurdish-led fighters expelled ISIS from the last scrap of their territorial “caliphate” in March 2019, Al-Hol has swelled to a tent city of some 62,000 people -- civilians but also alleged IS relatives.

The United Nations says it has documented “radicalization” in the camp, where the number of guards is limited and around 10,000 foreign ISIS-linked women and children lived in a separate annex.

Fabrizio Carboni, head of ICRC’s Middle East and Near East operations, on Wednesday described a “pervasive sense of hopelessness” in Al-Hol.
Boys lived “in a state of constant fear,” as “once they reach a certain age, many are separated from their families and transferred to adult places of detention,” he said in a statement.

He called for children in detention to be “either reunited with their families in camps, repatriated alongside them or have alternative care arrangements made for them.”

Omar, the Kurdish official, urged the international community to help it “set up 15 or 16 centers to bring the children out of the jails, until a solution is found.”

Keeping them in their current “environment will only lead to the emergence of a new generation of terrorists,” he warned.

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