16 October 2019 - Syria

A tiny proportion of foreign children in North East Syria camps repatriated in 2019

Save the Children calls for immediate protection of Syrian, Iraqi and foreign children, and for governments to urgently repatriate children to their countries of origin

Fewer than 350 children living in three camps in North East Syria and born to parents from a nationality other than Syrian or Iraqi are known to have been repatriated to their home country since January 2019 out of more than 9,800 [1].

Around 9,500 children from more than 40 nationalities from around the world were living in Al Hol, Ein Issa and Roj camps before the start of the military operations in Northeast Syria on October 9. Between January and early October 2019, Kazakhstan took back 156 children— slightly more than 50% of all children known to have been repatriated. In Europe, Kosovo repatriated 74 children, France 17, and Sweden 7 among others [2]. The agency is calling on governments to urgently step-up their efforts to repatriate foreign children as violence in the area escalates

Almost half of children living in the three camps before the operation began were under the age of 5 and the majority were under 12 years old [3].

Aalia*, 16, came to Syria from France four years ago and now lives in Roj camp. She is the eldest of four siblings, the youngest of whom is just three years old. Before the military operation started, she told Save the Children that she was not learning enough and wished to return home:

“I have finished all levels in this school, but I need to learn more. We are not learning enough here. I have to be ready to go back to France and I am getting behind. Can you help? Can you make the classes more challenging please? Also 11am to 2pm is not long enough to be in school. I want to finish my studies and become an architect.”


Sonia Khush, Save the Children Syria Country Director, said:

“We are doing everything we can to assess and meet the needs of the population who have been widely displaced in different locations.

We are calling for the protection of all children. There are however 9,000 children of foreign nationalities who could be taken away from this warzone. Their governments have the choice to remove them and literally save their lives. Children are being killed and it is unacceptable that governments who can do something to stop this are not acting.

“Governments around the world who know that their child nationals – some just a few months old -  have lived through conflict, bombardment and acute deprivation, can’t be idle.  Foreign children in Syria are innocent victims of the conflict and must be treated as such. Once again, like hundreds of thousands of Syrian children, babies are caught in a war they were born into. They need specialised help to recover from their experiences and return to normality and it’s their countries’ responsibility to help them recover”.

Save the Children is calling on countries of origin to safely repatriate these children and their families, and maintain family unity while offering recovery and rehabilitation support. With the displacement this week of hundreds of children from Ein Issa, Save the Children warned there was a danger that children of foreign nationals could now be lost in the chaos.

In the week since the operations began, at least 11 children in Northeast Syria and Turkey have reportedly been killed with reports of serious injury such as head wounds and injuries resulting in amputations. The true figure of children harmed is likely much higher, as journalists and NGOs struggle to maintain a presence and access information amidst the growing violence.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


Spokespeople are available. If you wish to arrange an interview, please contact Joelle Bassoul in Beirut joelle.bassoul@savethechildren.org 0096 1816 00696 or Davina Hagan in London davina.hagan@savethechildren.org 0044 7732 601762. During out of office hours, please contact media@savethechildren.org.uk 0044 7831 650409.


[1]  Save the Children analysed publicly available sources (news stories, announcements by governments and research reports). Up until October 13, there were 8,704 children of foreign origin living in 3 camps in North East Syria, and around 300 who are known to have been repatriated.

[2] Other European countries who have repatriated their children include Belgium 6, Norway 5, the Netherlands 2, and Denmark repatriated one child.

[3] Of the 13,350 foreign women and children present in the three camps before the operation, Save the Children estimates that around 85% of all children are under the age of 12, while 4,400 of them, or around 45%, are under the age of five.

[4] Save the Children began working with foreign children and families with links to ISIS in July 2017, with the first wave of displacement of this population from Raqqa. Save the Children is currently delivering programmes in all camps where foreign children with links to ISIS are present.

[5] Save the Children has set up mobile Child Friendly Spaces to give children a safe space to learn, play and recover from their traumatic experiences. We also provide case management services, education and infant and young child feeding project to support the mothers in ensuring their children remain in good health.

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