UNICEF: Children in NE Syria prison live in dire conditions

The U.N. children’s agency stated Sunday that the conditions in which children are being held in a northeast Syria prison where they witnessed fighting between U.S-backed fighters, Islamic State group militants, and U.S.-backed fighters was "incredibly precarious".

UNICEF: Children in NE Syria prison live in dire conditions

UNICEF stated that it is willing to support a safe area in Syria's northeast for the care of children as young as 12 years old. The UNICEF statement was made after one of its teams visited the Hassakeh prison in northeastern Syria.

After visiting children in Hassakeh prison on Saturday, UNICEF said that the children had lived in terrible conditions for many years. In January they "witnessed to and survived heightened violence" around the prison.

This visit was two days after IS's top leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in a U.S.raid at his safehouse in northwest Syria. Al-Qurayshi was cited as the perpetrator of the attack on Syria's prison cells by President Joe Biden.

More than 3,000 prisoners, 600 of them children, are kept at Hassakeh prison. Also known as Gweiran, or al-Sinaa, the Hassakeh jail is home to Hassakeh.

Bo Viktor Nylund (UNICEF representative for Syria), stated that "despite some of the basic services currently in place, the position of these children is extremely precarious."

The boys were kept apart from the adults. However, they were reunited when IS militants stormed prison on January 20. Some of the inmates managed to escape, but others, including children detainees, were held hostage during the subsequent battle.

Nylund stated that UNICEF works to provide safety, care and support for the children. She also called on all parties to urgently seek long-term solutions in their best interest.

UNICEF will support the creation of a safe area in Syria's northeast that can care for the most vulnerable children. Some of these children are as young as 12 years old, he said.

The U.S-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces announced that they had retaken the prison's control and confirmed that 40 Kurdish fighters, 77 prison workers, and four civilians had been killed. They also confirmed that 374 IS attackers and detainees had been taken into custody.

The SDF did not provide any breakdown of dead detainees or how many were children.

Nylund stated that there was significant destruction around the prison, with homes being destroyed affecting approximately 30,000 people. He said that every effort should be made to assist the Syrian government as well as local authorities.

Nylund stated that children should not be held in detention because they are associated with armed groups. "Children who are associated with or recruited by armed organizations should be treated as victims in conflict."

UNICEF demands the immediate release and transfer of all children held in detention centers throughout northeast Syria to child protection agencies. He stated that UNICEF has called on all member countries of foreign children to return them.

Some countries refuse to repatriate Syrian children detained in Syria for years while Kurdish authorities express concern that they might have extremist tendencies.

Nylund stated that UNICEF is ready to facilitate the rapid and systematic repatriation and reintegration in Syria of children from their families of origin. Nylund stated that the repatriation of Syrian children is too slow and that integration of Syria-bound children was not happening at the speed they need. This is unacceptable.

Human Rights Watch reported Friday that hundreds of boys were missing in the fighting around the prison.