Syrian Detention Camps: A Humanitarian Ignorance

A detention camp turns into a small city crawling with crime, sickness and death; where the only meaning of a government is survival and the only vote an individual stands to gain or lose, is their life. The most vulnerable of the lot; women and children suffer unquestionably. They are often the broken shreds of the families that ISIS fighters have left behind.


Al-hol and Al-khol, two of the most prominent camps hold nearly 60,000 of the population, the majority of them from Syria and Iraq and a small fraction emanating from European countries as well. These camps are turning into breeding grounds for future Islamist fighters and a way for ISIS to regain its authority in the area once again, after losing its stronghold on the Baghuz region which resulted in the 2019 defeat. It raises not just a humanitarian concern but also that of peace and security. There have been reports of young boys being taken out of Al-hol, the desert camp run by Kurdish forces. They are sent to be trained and inducted into the terrorist armies. This situation has put the world powers into a dilemma. Will these detention camps become a breeding ground for terrorists if the world remains a silent spectator? Or is the risk of repatriating the citizens a bigger threat to the world peace?

While some nations have agreed to take back their citizens and try them according to their national laws, others consider it an act of putting their countries at a higher risk because it also means expanding the domains of terrorism to themselves. This is simply the onset of the problem. The humanitarian crisis in the detention camps is a whole different paradigm in itself. World governments have been pressurized and sued by humanitarian groups to assume their legal and moral responsibility for the sake of the children trapped in these camps. As per the ground reports, there are massive deaths due to hunger, medical negligence as well as other crimes. In short, the horrors perpetuate into the darkness these camps exhibit and the value of human life is as uncertain as the roof of a weak tent over their heads. With one sweep of a disastrous calamity, the frail fabric of their existence is extinguished. According to UNICEF, 'eight children under 5 years old had died at the camp last August, half from malnutrition-related complications. The other deaths had been due to dehydration from diarrhoea, heart failure, internal bleeding and hypoglycaemia'.

'More than 200 women from 11 European countries and their 650 children are living in two Syrian camps, Al Hol and Roj', as per the figures compiled by Thomas Renard, a researcher at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think tank. Many terrorism experts have brought forth the cons of repatriating citizens who had willingly left to join the ISIS. It is a possibility that they will try to incur those activities if they’re repatriated to a country they had left willingly to join a terrorist group. However, some women are willing to be tried according to the national laws of the countries they belonged to, in order to get their children out of an obvious calamity. In this case, the experts have claimed as a counter point that many of the young children are still in an age where, if exposed to a positive environment they can leave behind the dark fate that awaits them, otherwise. They say that these individuals are not well-equipped to carry out any unlawful activities in the kind of position they’re in. Another factor is that delaying repatriation in the case of these children would only mean victory for the ISIS who see them as future Islamist fighters. Although it is hard to pinpoint a success rate to the latter argument as a theory however, evading a humanitarian crisis that is very much the responsibility of these Nations shouldn't even be a point for discussion. There are setbacks either way but the primary goal of the countries should be to rescue as many children as is possible and to provide them with safety. Amnesty has been urging the countries to come forward for this cause at the earliest because with each delay, a life is lost. After all, a government is formed for the people. What happens when these children who could be 'responsible people' become a dilemma and a choice that most of the superpowers willingly chose to forgoe?


A ray of hope sparked when, in the beginning of June 2021 the Dutch government saved a few people from the camps for the second time. Albania has stepped forward to carry out its responsibility, especially toward the 30 rescued children. Sandar Llhesaj, the Prime Minister of Albania believes that it's a moral obligation to rescue at least the children from the clutches of terrorist groups because they are clearly victims of their irresponsible parents. Even Russia and Kazakhstan have repatriated nearly 1,000 children and their families.

However, this spark is only a very small part of the solution. Despite the examples of these countries, many Nations have simply refused to repatriate the citizens or have repatriated very few. A pressing matter amidst this chaos is the fact that this refusal by countries doesn't only stem from a security concern but also from their standpoint that they've no legal obligation in the scenario.

This is where the power of law morphs into a question mark. Within this admixture of politics and war, one thing stands clear: concern for a humanitarian crisis and a moral obligation holds no stature in today's world. This also forces one to think, to what extent does International law bind us and to what extent does its authority branch out across the globe?