Teenage detainees in Syria lack food and medicine, aid group says

QAMISHLI, Syria – Children detained in a northeastern Syrian prison that was attacked by ISIS two weeks ago are injured, hungry and thir...


QAMISHLI, Syria – Children detained in a northeastern Syrian prison that was attacked by ISIS two weeks ago are injured, hungry and thirsty, according to the first international aid worker to see them from headquarters .

“They just managed to say a few words: that they are hungry, they need water, they need medical care,” said the official, Bo Viktor Nylund, UNICEF Representative in Syria. who visited Sinaa prison on Saturday. Prison authorities allowed him to see the children through small barred windows in the steel cell doors, but not to talk to them.

The makeshift prison in the city of Hasaka, which was attacked on January 20 by suicide bombers and ISIS gunmen detained about 4,000 suspected ISIS fighters and about 700 teenagers. Fears over the teenagers’ safety grew after the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which is in charge of this separatist region of Syria, said IS gunmen had used some of them. them as human shields when attacking.

Hundreds of detainees were killed in 10 days as the Syrian Democratic Forces and US Ground Forces fought regain control of the prison from the terrorist group.

The SDF said it had lost 40 fighters and 77 guards and other prison workers. But he did not reveal details about the fate of the teenagers and barred access to journalists – and, until Saturday, aid organisations, such as UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross, who is normally the first to visit the detainees.

A photograph provided by UNICEF to The New York Times shows the teenagers, their identities obscured, sitting barefoot on concrete and dirt floors with thin mattresses lined up end to end. Sunlight through tall windows lit up what looked like blackened walls. Some of the boys had blankets wrapped around their shoulders.

Credit…UNICEF

“We saw hundreds of boys,” Mr. Nylund told The Times on Sunday. “Pretty skinny and needs a lot of services including medical support.”

He said SDF officials told him on Saturday that there were 700 minors detained – the same number they had given before the prison siege – and that he was shown “six or seven” cells, each with about 30 children. Mr Nylund estimated the youngest prisoner he saw was around 15.

He said the smell of smoke was still in the air and the walls of the prison were burned, but “they managed to get the basics in place”, he said, making reference to blankets and mattresses.

“But it was a war zone,” Mr Nylund added.

The teenagers have been held in the makeshift prison since being separated from women and young children after ISIS fell in 2019and none have appeared before a judge since their detention.

The SDF said the boys’ ties to Islamic State made them dangerous and some of the older ones had been trained to fight, while human rights organizations viewed them as victims, children taken to the Islamic State without having chosen on their own.

In the past three years, few aid organizations have had even a glimpse of the teenagers, as the SDF has restricted access.

“We have been working for over a year to gain access,” Mr Nylund said of the Sinaa prison. “We haven’t spoken to any of them in detail.”

Last week the Times saw two bodies which appeared to be those of teenagers among other bodies found in the neighborhood around the prison where residents reported seeing ISIS attackers during the siege. Prison clothing was also among the remains. About 200 Islamic State fighters had attacked the prison in an attempt to break out fellow inmates, and it was unclear whether the boys escaped with adult prisoners or were taken hostage by them.

Mazlum Kobani, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told The Times that a “very small number” of teenagers were killed in the operation to take over the prison and arrest ISIS fighters. Islamic State.

Human Rights Watch said that two detainees had told him of seeing children killed in the prison fights, and that another detainee had described how a child had bled to death in his arms.

An SDF official told The Times last week that the boys had been moved from safekeeping Sinaa prison to a newer facility, but Mr Nylund, the UNICEF official, said he saw them at the same place where they were held before the attack.

“We have no information,” SDF spokesman Ferhad Shami said on Sunday when asked about the discrepancy.

Mr Nylund said UNICEF hoped to help the youngest prisoners and those who were sick or injured first. After that, he said, the UN organization will try to establish files for the children, with the aim of repatriating the foreigners to third countries. Most countries have refused to repatriate prisoners or families from detention camps in this region of Syria.

“We will do so on the condition that we have continued access because unless we do we are used,” Mr Nylund said in an unusually blunt comment on the lack of access offered by officials keen to show. that they work with international organizations. , but less willing to let them in.

“Let’s see if there’s a real will to take this to the next level because, to date, we haven’t seen that actually happen,” he said.

UNICEF said in a statement announcing the visit that children should be placed in the care of child protection agencies and that foreigners should be repatriated to their country of origin.

“Children associated and recruited by armed groups must always be treated as victims of conflict,” he said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Teenage detainees in Syria lack food and medicine, aid group says
Teenage detainees in Syria lack food and medicine, aid group says
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