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The ISIS Hostages: ‘These Kids Ought to Not Have Been There’

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The boys within the jail sleep in teams of about 15 in cells with no home windows, based on support staff.

They get contemporary air and see the solar throughout visits to a walled-in yard, however obtain no guests. They vary in age from as younger as 10 as much as 18 and have acquired no education since they had been detained three or extra years in the past.

Now, their lives are in danger in a pitched battle over management of the jail.

Islamic State fighters who attacked the jail on Thursday to free their comrades are holding the boys hostage as human shields. A Kurdish-led militia backed by American troops is attempting to retake the jail. A whole lot of fighters have been reported killed.

The battle has yanked from the shadows the awful plight of the almost 700 boys detained on the jail in Hasaka, Syria. They’re among the many tens of hundreds of youngsters held in prisons and detention camps in northeastern Syria as a result of their mother and father belonged to the Islamic State.

The Kurdish-led militia that operates the jail, referred to as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., says that the youngsters’s ties to the Islamic State make them harmful. It has additionally criticized international governments for refusing to repatriate their residents held within the camps and prisons, together with the youngsters.

However support staff and human rights advocates say detaining the youngsters punishes them for the sins of their mother and father — and will gas the very radicalization that the authorities who locked them up say they wish to stop.

“Below worldwide regulation, placing kids in detention needs to be a final resort,” stated Bo Viktor Nylund, the consultant for Syria for the United Nations kids’s company, UNICEF. “The entire facet of those kids as victims of their circumstances has not been taken into consideration.”

After days of combating, the battle for the jail, within the metropolis of Hasaka, is now centered on one three-story constructing that homes the kitchen, clothes workshop, clinic and barbershop, stated Farhad Shami, an S.D.F. spokesman. The higher flooring of that constructing are the youngsters’s ward, the place the 700 boys had been detained.

About 500 ISIS members, each attackers and the grownup prisoners who joined them, are believed to be contained in the constructing holding the employees and boys hostage, Mr. Shami stated. Fifteen staff and about 20 boys managed to flee on Monday, he stated, however ISIS was utilizing the others as human shields, complicating S.D.F. efforts to retake the constructing.

Mr. Shami stated he didn’t know the way most of the boys had been killed or wounded. However Letta Tayler, a director with Human Rights Watch who tracks the Syria detentions, wrote on Twitter that she had spoken with two males and one boy contained in the surrounded constructing, they usually stated they’d seen many lifeless and wounded boys. In addition they stated they’d run out of meals and water and had burned their mattresses to prepare dinner earlier than the meals ran out.

The detention disaster in northeastern Syria has its roots within the collapse of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate, which at its top was in regards to the dimension of Britain and stretched into Syria and Iraq.

A world army coalition led by america partnered with the S.D.F. to combat the jihadists in Syria, pushing them from their final patch of territory in March 2019.

The S.D.F. detained those that survived in an advert hoc community of prisons for the lads and camps for the ladies and kids, anticipating that the international locations the fighters and their households had come from would take them again. However most countries have refused, leaving the detainees languishing for years in squalid, harmful camps and makeshift prisons, with no authorized recourse.

Tens of hundreds of youngsters, most of them Syrians and Iraqis, stay within the space’s two primary camps, together with hundreds of youngsters of different nationalities, stated Ardian Shajkovci, director of the American Counterterrorism Targeting and Resilience Institute, which has researched the problem.

From 200 to 220 kids are believed to be in two rehabilitation facilities run by the S.D.F.-affiliated administration that governs the world.

The S.D.F. has lengthy resisted offering details about the variety of boys in its prisons, however Mr. Shajkovici stated there are about 700 within the Hasaka facility and about 35 in one other lockup within the metropolis of Qamishli. Most are Syrians and Iraqis, however about 150 are foreigners.

In 2019, when The New York Instances first reported on the presence of children in the Hasaka prison, they had been wearing orange jumpsuits and crammed in regular cells close to the grownup prisoners.

Since then, their circumstances have marginally improved, based on support staff. They had been segregated from the adults and moved to their very own constructing on the north aspect of the compound, the place there are three flooring with about 15 cells every.

Assist teams have introduced them blankets, mattresses, hygiene provides and garments. They’ve communal bogs and their very own yard the place they get common recreation time.

During the last 15 months, their quantity elevated to 700 from about 550, support staff stated, when the S.D.F. moved some adolescents from the camps to the jail. In some instances, that meant separating them from their moms, who remained within the camps.

They had been eliminated for quite a lot of causes: some after safety incidents, some as a result of the S.D.F. thought they’d reached a “harmful” age, or due to worries they’d impregnate ladies within the camps, based on support staff and Mr. Shajkovci, the researcher.

Mr. Shami, the S.D.F. spokesman, denied that any boys had been moved from the camps to the jail however stated some had been taken to rehabilitation facilities as a result of they had been prone to getting radicalized within the camps, the place many detainees stay steadfast supporters of the caliphate.

He known as all of the boys within the jail “cubs of the caliphate,” the identify ISIS used for kids educated to combat, and stated they’d been captured in ISIS bases and will have been educated to hold out suicide bombings.

Mr. Nylund of UNICEF acknowledged that a number of the boys may have performed roles in fight however stated it was troublesome to find out every little one’s background and that some had clearly been too younger to combat. Not one of the boys have been charged with a criminal offense or seen a choose.

And none of these circumstances mitigated the hazard to the boys now, Mr. Nylund stated.

“These kids are at very shut threat of falling each as targets within the crossfire and doubtlessly being re-recruited or recruited for the primary time and ending up within the palms of ISIS,” he stated.

“We’re calling on all events to save lots of the lives of those kids, with a cease-fire, with negotiations, no matter it takes,” stated Mehmet Balci, the founder and co-director of Fight for Humanity, a human rights group, who visited the jail 3 times.

Mr. Balci’s group started a challenge final 12 months to do particular person assessments of the boys to offer them with academic, leisure and psychological help, he stated in an interview.

His group had employed employees, bought tools, made plans for TV rooms for the boys and performed two coaching classes with the jail employees about little one safety.

The ISIS assault had put every thing on maintain.

Mr. Balci stated the challenge may have made a nasty state of affairs for the boys just a little higher, however with out altering what he noticed as the basic injustice.

“These kids shouldn’t have been there,” he stated. “This isn’t their place.”

Jane Arraf contributed reporting from Baghdad.

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