Switzerland slammed for abandoning two minors in Syria 

This content was published on April 22, 2021 - 14:05
The wife of an ISIS fighter and her children in a Kurdish-run camp in northeast Syria (not the Swiss girls mentioned in the story) Keystone / Ahmed Mardnli

Switzerland is under pressure to repatriate two young Swiss girls living in a makeshift camp established in northeast Syria after the fall of the Islamic State group (ISIS). 

The United Nations human rights experts issued a statement on Thursday urging Switzerland to bring back two half-sisters, aged 8 and 14, who were allegedly abducted by their mother five years ago and taken to ISIS territory. 

The mother ostensibly took the girls on holiday in August 2016 but ended up in Syria, where ISIS had declared a caliphate. 

“Children should not have to bear the terrible burden of simply being born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups,” the experts said. 

“Deprived of their liberty for several years already in the camp of Al-Hol and then in Roj, denied of their right to return to Switzerland and be reunited with their families, the detention of these two children increasingly exposes them to all kinds of abuse,” they said. 

Thousands of foreigners with alleged links to ISIS live in the Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps under the ad hoc control of Syrian Kurdish authorities. The majority are women and children. The Swiss mother and the two daughters were transferred to Al-Roj in the summer of 2019. 

Health concerns 

The experts raised concerns over the health of the Swiss girls, including the unavailability of specialised care and orthopaedic devices for the eldest, who is believed to have suffered a shrapnel wound to the leg requiring three operations. 

They also pointed to the unsanitary conditions of the camp and the precarious security situation which puts them at risk of abuse. 

Syrian Kurds have repeatedly urged the international community to repatriate its nationals saying they do not have the resources to guard them indefinitely. Few have heeded that call. The United Nations describes the conditions at the camps as “sub-human”. 

“The detention of these two Swiss girls in these conditions is contrary to their best interests and contravenes international human rights conventions to which Switzerland is a party,” the experts said. 

The Swiss foreign ministry, in a statement to Reuters, reaffirmed its 2019 policy on “travellers motivated by terrorism”.

“Repatriation can only be considered for minors,” it said, adding that it was seeking solutions with authorities in Switzerland and abroad. “However, these efforts have not yet been successful, as the mothers refuse to let the children be repatriated without them ... the Kurdish authorities do not authorise the separation of mother and children, unless the mother agrees or for humanitarian reasons.”

The fathers, through their lawyers, have written to Swiss parliamentarians seeking support for the girls' repatriation.

The lawyer's March 21 letter, cited by Reuters, refers to decisions by Swiss officials to strip the mother of her Swiss nationality, while also opening a criminal procedure against her for kidnapping and belonging to a criminal organisation.

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