RESEARCH PROJECTS SYRIA
The early morning radio news about Belgian children of ISIS members in Kurdish detention camps in northeast Syria on 16 April 2018 gave rise to our involvement in Syria. The public and political reluctancy, which was expressed in the radio news, to get these children out of the detention camps activated dr. Gerrit Loots to strive for their repatriation.
A VUB team of medical doctors, pediatricians, child psychologists and psychotherapists visited the detention camps twice, in October 2018 and in June 2019. The team went to know who these children and their mothers really were. First, the team met young children that were just as all other children, with the same potential and the same rights to grow-up in a dignified way. The second visit became a humanitarian mission to save children’s lives from starvation and diseases. Several international and humanitarian organisations frequently warned the government that the living conditions in the locked desert camps were appalling and unacceptable from a human and children’s rights perspective. There was and still is a serious lack of food, clean water, shelter, sanitarian and hygienic conditions, and medical and psychosocial care. Children are dying from undernourishment, dehydration, pneumonia, diarrhoea and other diseases that can be easily treated, extreme climate conditions and the ongoing war. In May 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, installed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), expressed its concern about the inhuman conditions, in which at least 11.000 foreign women and children related to ISIS had to survive. At least 7.000 of the children are under 12, most of them are less than 6 years old. Because of this unbearable dire situation, several countries repatriated children and mothers (e.g. Russia, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Tadzhikistan, Indonesia, United States). Some Western European countries only repatriated orphans and unaccompanied minors from the detention camps (e.g. France, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway…). The Belgian government too repatriated 6 unaccompanied children and teenagers between 6 and 18 years old, but still refrains to rescue about 40 children between 0 and 6 years old and their Belgian mothers, and being guilty of serious violation of human and children’s rights and the most fundamental moral values of Western European societies.