BEIRUT, Lebanon — The boys within the jail sleep in teams of about 15 in cells with no home windows, in keeping with 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 have 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 making an attempt to retake the jail. A whole bunch of fighters have been reported killed.
The battle has yanked from the shadows the grim plight of the almost 700 boys detained on the jail in Hasaka, Syria. They’re among the many tens of 1000’s of kids 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, often known 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 overseas 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 need to stop.
“Below worldwide legislation, placing youngsters in detention needs to be a final resort,” mentioned Bo Viktor Nylund, the consultant for Syria for the United Nations youngsters’s company, UNICEF. “The entire side of those youngsters 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, mentioned Farhad Shami, an S.D.F. spokesman. The higher flooring of that constructing are the youngsters’s ward, the place the 700 boys have 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 mentioned. Fifteen staff and about 20 boys managed to flee on Monday, he mentioned, however ISIS was utilizing the others as human shields, complicating S.D.F. efforts to retake the constructing.
Mr. Shami mentioned he didn’t understand how 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 mentioned they’d seen many lifeless and wounded boys. Additionally they mentioned 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 global navy coalition led by the USA 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 youngsters, 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 1000’s of kids, most of them Syrians and Iraqis, dwell within the space’s two primary camps, together with 1000’s of kids of different nationalities, mentioned Ardian Shajkovci, director of the American Counterterrorism Targeting and Resilience Institute, which has researched the difficulty.
From 200 to 220 youngsters 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 mentioned 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 Occasions first reported on the presence of children in the Hasaka prison, they have been wearing orange jumpsuits and crammed in regular cells close to the grownup prisoners.
Since then, their situations have marginally improved, in keeping with support staff. They have 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.
Help teams have introduced them blankets, mattresses, hygiene provides and garments. They’ve communal loos and their very own yard the place they get common recreation time.
Over the past 15 months, their quantity elevated to 700 from about 550, support staff mentioned, when the S.D.F. moved some adolescents from the camps to the jail. In some circumstances, that meant separating them from their moms, who remained within the camps.
They have 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 might impregnate girls within the camps, in keeping with 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 mentioned some had been taken to rehabilitation facilities as a result of they have been susceptible to getting radicalized within the camps, the place many detainees stay steadfast supporters of the caliphate.
He referred to as all of the boys within the jail “cubs of the caliphate,” the title ISIS used for kids educated to combat, and mentioned 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 might have performed roles in fight however mentioned it was tough to find out every baby’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 mentioned.
“These youngsters are at very shut danger of falling each as targets within the crossfire and probably being re-recruited or recruited for the primary time and ending up within the arms of ISIS,” he mentioned.
“We’re calling on all events to save lots of the lives of those youngsters, with a cease-fire, with negotiations, no matter it takes,” mentioned Mehmet Balci, the founder and co-director of Fight for Humanity, a human rights group, who visited the jail thrice.
Mr. Balci’s group started a undertaking final 12 months to do particular person assessments of the boys to offer them with instructional, leisure and psychological assist, he mentioned in an interview.
His group had employed workers, bought tools, made plans for TV rooms for the boys and performed two coaching classes with the jail workers about baby safety.
The ISIS assault had put every thing on maintain.
Mr. Balci mentioned the undertaking might have made a foul state of affairs for the boys a bit higher, however with out altering what he noticed as the elemental injustice.
“These youngsters mustn’t have been there,” he mentioned. “This isn’t their place.”
Jane Arraf contributed reporting from Baghdad.