Switzerland urged to repatriate two girls from Syria camps - U.N. experts

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations human rights experts urged Switzerland on Thursday to repatriate two Geneva sisters from a squalid camp in north-eastern Syria five years after the girls were allegedly abducted by their mother who joined Islamic State (IS).

More than 60,000 people, two-thirds of them children, are held in camps for families associated with IS fighters, which the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross described after a visit in March as a "tragedy in plain sight".

The al-Hol and al-Roj camps, run by Syrian Kurdish forces, hold nationals from some 60 countries who fled IS's final enclaves.

"The two fathers of the girls, who both live in Geneva, have asked the Swiss Government to take the necessary steps to repatriate their daughters who, were ostensibly taken by their mother on a vacation in August 2016 but ended up in Syria," the independent U.N. experts said in a statement.

"The repatriation of these two children should not be further delayed," they said, adding that the half-sisters were believed to be held at al-Roj.

The 14-year-old has anaemia and is believed to have suffered a severe shrapnel wound to her leg, still requiring orthopaedic devices after three operations, they said. The eight-year-old was also thought to be in poor health.

There was no immediate reaction from the Swiss foreign ministry to a Reuters request for comment. The Swiss federal government, in a 2019 statement regarding "travellers motivated by terrorism", said its first objective was protecting the country and its population, above individual interests.

"Children should not have to bear the terrible burden of simply being born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups," the U.N. experts said.

They should be recognised as victims and their reintegration and family reunification, if possible, should been a priority, they said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alex Richardson)

04/22/2021 10:18

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