France violated rights of children held in 'inhuman' Syria camps, UN watchdog says

France has violated the rights of French children by leaving them for years in inhuman and life-threatening conditions in Syrian camps for family members of suspected jihadists, a UN watchdog said Thursday.

The UN child rights committee ruled that "France has the responsibility and power to protect the French children in the Syrian camps against an imminent risk to their lives by taking action to repatriate them."

It stressed in a statement that "the prolonged detention of the child victims in life-threatening conditions also amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment."

The committee, whose 18 independent experts are tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, issued its findings after considering three cases involving 49 French children held in Kurdish-controlled camps in Syria's northeast.

Relatives of suspected jihadists, including children, are kept in a number of camps in the region, the largest of which is Al-Hol with around 56,000 displaced people and refugees.

Repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears.

"The children are living in inhuman sanitary conditions, lacking basic necessities including water, food and health care, and facing an imminent risk of death," committee member Ann Skelton warned.

"The situation is therefore extremely urgent."

She pointed out that at least 62 children have reportedly died in the camps due to these conditions since the start of 2021.

'War-like zone'

The French cases were brought by a group of French nationals on behalf of their grandchildren, nieces and nephews -- some as young as five -- long stuck in the camps.

Some of the children were born in Syria, while others were brought there by their French parents at a very young age.

Their parents are alleged to have collaborated with the Islamic State group.

Since their relatives took their cases to the committee in 2019, the French government has repatriated 11 of the children.

The remaining 38 -- some as young as five years old -- are still being detained in the "closed camps in a war-like zone", the committee said.

Its statement said France had "not shown that it gave due consideration to the best interests of the child victims when assessing their relatives' requests for repatriation".

The committee urged France to take urgent action to repatriate the remaining 38 child victims.

In the meantime, it called on Paris to take additional measures to mitigate the risks faced by the children remaining in northeastern Syria.

"We call on France to take immediate action, as every day that passes there is a renewed possibility for further casualties," Skelton said.

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