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Council of Europe member states should urgently repatriate their under-age nationals stranded in Northern Syria

Statement
Strasbourg 28/05/2019
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The camp of Al-Hol in Northern Syria hosts more than 73 000 people, including citizens of Council of Europe member states, who live in squalid and hazardous conditions according to the World Health Organisation. 90% of those stranded in the camp with almost no access to health care are women and children, many of whom are not older than 6 years.

The WHO also reports that the camp is severely overcrowded, and essential service providers are overwhelmed. Looking ahead, with the temperature rising, conditions in the camp are likely to deteriorate further. These deplorable living conditions seriously endanger the life of children. As of 14 March 2019, 120 deaths had been recorded, 80 percent of them being children under the age of five. In only one month, the total number of deaths doubled, rising 249 as of 11 April. Most fatalities were due to malnutrition, infected wounds, severe burns and acute diarrhoea.

In this context, I urge Council of Europe member states to take all necessary measures to ensure the repatriation as a matter of urgency of their under-age nationals from the camp of Al-Hol.

One of the primary responsibility of Council of Europe member states is to take all feasible measures to ensure that children affected by armed conflict receive protection and care as provided for in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocol I, as well as in the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which all Council of Europe member states are party. These children should be treated first and foremost as victims.

I also urge Council of Europe member states to consider repatriating their mothers as well, in order to safeguard the best interests of the children, as required by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which does not prevent these States from bringing the mothers to justice where appropriate, in accordance with their legislation and international and European applicable standards.

Some member states have already taken steps to repatriate their under-age nationals. I call on those which have not yet done so to urgently follow suit. I further invite Council of Europe member states to provide adequate medical, psychological and social support to these children upon their return to their home country.