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Al-Hol – No place for innocents

19 July 2019, Action for Change

Children of ISIS fighters don’t deserve to be damned to a hell on earth

In the aftermath of one of the final offensives against ISIS in December last year, tens of thousands of displaced women and children descended on Al-Hol refugee camp in North East Syria.

They arrived crammed in the back of trucks. They carried injuries, illnesses and just the clothes on their back. Most of the children were the sons and daughters of ISIS fighters, who’d been taken to a war zone where they faced brutal violence, bombardment and acute deprivation.

Al-Hol has become notorious. The Red Cross described conditions in the camp as ‘apocalyptic’. It is home to more than 73,000 people now, though it was only designed to accommodate about half that number.

Bitterly cold in the winter. Searing heat in the summer with little shade or shelter. There’s nowhere to learn, nowhere to play.

Children are being born there. Children are dying there. So far, more than 200 children under five have died either en-route to or within the camp.

Malnutrition, diarrhoea and pneumonia are all widespread. This, on top of the wounds, injuries and emotional suffering endured during the final throes of a brutal battle.

Many of the children show signs of psychological distress; in need of professional support and ongoing care. By leaving them in Syria, we are condemning them to deeper anguish.

Sixty-five percent of those in the camp are children. Of those, the vast majority are under 12 years old. Sadly, there are some who believe they should stay there. That because of the atrocities carried out by their fathers or other relatives, they deserve to be damned to a hell on earth. Many are too young to know who their fathers were.

There are still about 60 Australian children and women languishing in Al-Hol camp. Save the Children has called on the government to bring them home, while those adults who have broken the law should face justice. Thankfully, the repatriation process has begun and hopefully Australia will continue to bring back the remaining children and support their reintegration into normal life back home.

Those still trapped include sick and injured children who need urgent medical care.

They have done nothing wrong. We can’t hold them responsible for the actions of their parents. They deserve the same freedoms and opportunities that all children do. They deserve to go to school, to make friends, to play, to learn and to grow up in a world free of conflict and violence. After all, they are innocent.

A place like Al-Hol is no place for innocents.

Let’s give these Australian children their childhood. Let’s get them all home.

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