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Trapped and traumatised: Thousands of foreign children languish in Syrian camps with no hope of going home

Having endured the horrors of Islamic State, the future for children held in detention across northeast Syria is bleak, as many have been abandoned by their governments, Bel Trew reports from Tal Marouf

Sunday 09 January 2022 14:03 GMT
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Iraqi children look from behind a fence at the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria
Iraqi children look from behind a fence at the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria (AFP/Getty)

The sun rises and the boys at the al-Houri deradicalisation centre and orphanage in northeast Syria move listlessly through yet another day of chores, in what is effectively a prison.

The 120 children, from more than 25 different countries, huddle on the benches in the small courtyard of the Kurdish-run facility. A medley of languages drifts through the winter mist: one of the only things that unites these boys is that they grew up for years under the Islamic State’s caliphate and now find themselves a long way from their families and homelands.

There are tens of thousands of such children across the region held in grim conditions the UN says might be akin to torture. Many of them have foreign citizenship yet have little hope of going home because they are stigmatised due to an association with Isis and have been abandoned by governments – including the UK – who refuse to repatriate them.

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