A delegation of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) visited Sina’a prison in Haseke, northeast Syria, on Saturday, a short time after the clashes that ensued an Islamic State (ISIS) attack on the prison compound and which left nearly 500 dead.
After the most comprehensive ISIS attack since its military defeat in 2019, the clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS militants inside the compound and in the surrounding neighbourhoods continued for more than a week.
The Sina’a prison is one of the largest detention centres in the region governed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), holding thousands of suspected ISIS fighters and hundreds of children of families affiliated with ISIS. Most of the children were evacuated from the compound and placed in a number of rehabilitation centres in Haseke as clashed died down at the end of January.
“Yesterday, UNICEF met with some of the children still detained in the Ghwayran detention centre, in Haseke, northeast Syria,” a statement by UNICEF said.
“For at least ten days, children who have lived in dire conditions in Ghwayran detention centre, many of them for years, witnessed and survived heightened violence in and around the prison further to the attack in mid-January.”
“UNICEF acknowledges efforts by the local authorities to stabilise the situation in and outside the prison. The work done to assess the condition of the children and support their care and protection has been invaluable and it needs to continue (…) Destruction in the surrounding area is also significant. Homes have been destroyed, affecting an estimated 30,000 people. It is urgent to support every effort, including by the Government of Syria and local authorities, to provide immediate assistance to affected populations.”
UNICEF confirmed in its statement that it is ‘ready to help support a new safe place in the northeast of Syria to take care of the most vulnerable children’, some of whom are as young as 12 years old.
“Children should never be in detention due to association with armed groups. Children associated with and recruited by armed groups should always be treated as victims of conflict,” it added.
It also called on member states of foreign children to repatriate these children urgently.