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]. None of those known to be repatriated are Canadian.


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, including an estimated 20 Canadian children. 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]. While other countries have repatriated some children, Canada has thus far failed to do so. The agency is reiterating its call on Canada to join other governments in urgently stepping 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, including extremely vulnerable Canadian children, some under five years old. The Canadian government has the choice to remove them and literally save their lives.


“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. Canadian and other 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 Canada and other 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. The window of opportunity to repatriate may not be open for long.


In the week since the operations began, at least 11 children in Northeast Syria and Turkey have reportedly been killed and there are other 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. 

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