UNICEF is on the ground in northeast Syria, providing emergency assistance to children and families fleeing intense fighting in and around the Ghwayran detention center in the city of Hasakah.
According to the United Nations, on January 20, ISIL fighters launched an assault on the detention center in an attempt to free some of their counterparts, igniting a violent clash with Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) who control the facility. One of the largest detention centers in northeast Syria, Ghwayran houses 5,000 detainees, including at least 700 boys, some as young as 12 years old.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore called for the release of the underage prisoners on January 25, saying, “None of them has been charged with any crime under national or international law. The children of foreign nationals have received little to no support from their home countries. These children should never have been held in military detention in the first place. The violence they are subjected to may amount to war crimes.”
An estimated 45,000 people have been forced out of their homes amid the recent violence. UNICEF is working with partners to provide essentials including safe drinking water and critical hygiene supplies. UNICEF’s volunteers helped people reach shelters and clinics and distributing food, blankets, mattresses, clothes and medicine.
Some 650 displaced families have taken refuge at a UNICEF-supported temporary shelter at Waleed Nofal school in Hasakah city. UNICEF volunteers are providing children with recreational equipment and a safe space to play.
Eleven-year-old Ahmad, above, and his family are among those staying at Waleed Nofal school. “I fled my house with my family when the fighting started,” he said. “People were running everywhere. I heard sounds of gunshots and a military plane. I was very scared. We were looking for a safe space and found this school.”
“We were really scared,” said 12-year-old Rawabi, above center, who fled the Ghwayran neighborhood with her family. “My young siblings had pain in their ears because of the very loud sounds we heard. We were all crying, adults and children. This is the second time we have been displaced due to violence. We feel happy that teams come and organize activities for us but in the end, we just want to go back home.”
A UNICEF-supported health and nutrition mobile clinic based in Musab Bin Omair mosque, Tal Hajar, Hasakah city, is delivering services and medicine to vulnerable children and their mothers.
The health and nutrition team is providing health consultations; screening children, pregnant and lactating women for malnutrition; and distributing Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food to treat malnourished children.
As part of a malnutrition screening, UNICEF-supported health workers measure children’s mid-upper arms in Hasakah city.
UNICEF volunteers conduct rapid needs assessment for newly arrived families to refer them to the services at Musab Bin Omair mosque.
Some 120 internally displaced families are staying at Musab Bin Omair mosque. UNICEF is providing information to families on how to prevent separation and access psychosocial support for children and caregivers. To date, nine separated and unaccompanied children have been identified and are being cared for. They became separated from their families along the way and do not know where their parents are.
UNICEF-supported teams are also distributing materials on the risks of explosive ordnance to raise awareness among boys and girls in the shelters and keep them safe.
“Children in shelters were frightened after the horrors they witnessed. Families told us children were having nightmares and bedwetting. It has been a harrowing experience for them, and it is clear they urgently need protection and assistance,” said UNICEF Syria Representative Bo Viktor Nylund.
UNICEF continues to call on all parties in northeast Syria to protect all children in northeast Syria at all times. UNICEF urges all member states involved to take urgent action and responsibility in the best interest of children and bring children and their mothers back to their country of origin.
UNICEF calls once again for the immediate release of the children in the detention facility and unimpeded access to them for emergency care and assistance.
Top photo: Internally displaced mothers and their children line up in front of the UNICEF -supported health and nutrition mobile clinic at Musab Bin Omair mosque, Tal Hajar, Hasakah city, northeast Syria on January 27, 2022. Some 45,000 people, mostly women and children, have been forced out of their homes by intense fighting in the area. All photos © UNICEF Syria