International civil society organizations dedicated protection of children (Save the Children, Hope and Homes for Children BiH, World Vision BiH) hereby urge the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to take timely and appropriate action and conduct required preparatory measures to ensure the safe and effective return and integration in BiH of children detained in Syria and Iraq.
“In view of the persisting dangers and mounting humanitarian needs in areas of armed conflict, we express our profound concern regarding the status and position of children of foreign fighters from BiH. The children currently placed in camps, detention centres and homes for children without parental care in Syria and Iraq are among the most endangered in the world and remain in highly perilous environments characterized by active fighting and large numbers of displaced civilians,” stressed the organizations in open letter to BiH institutions. They said that, in addition to having experienced unbridled violence, acute deprivation and high levels of traumatization during their subjugation in areas under the control of the so- called Islamic State, they now also increasingly fall victim to hypothermia, pneumonia, dehydration, malnutrition, tuberculosis and typhoid as a consequence of the inhumane living conditions in overcrowded and unsafe camps. Reports from humanitarian organizations in the field moreover confirm that many children also suffer the effects of trauma and separation from primary caregivers.
In accordance with United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant international documents, Save the Children, Hope and Homes for Children BiH i World Vision BiH invite institutions on action to ensure prompt and adequate return to BiH of children who are either citizens of BiH or are born of BiH citizens, as well as their effective reintegration with full respect for all prescribed rights. They remind that the United Nations Security Council resolution 2427 (2018) unambiguously called upon responsible parties to establish “standard operating procedures for the rapid return of children from the conflict zones and for directing them to relevant civilian actors for the protection of children”.
“Seeing that children are in no way responsible for the actions of their parents, they should be recognized and treated first and foremost as victims rather than as perpetrators,” emphasize the letter.
They warned that the children retain their fundamental rights, including their right to be safe, to have a family, to learn, and to be protected. Any decision that impacts their wellbeing, including as relates to repatriation, is to take into account their best interests and to be fully in line with BiH’s international obligations – especially as pertains to the above-noted Convention.
“We therefore invite the authorities of BiH to:
– Provide civilian documentation for children who are BiH citizens or born of BiH citizens;
– Prevent these children from being stateless or without citizenship;
– Support their safe, dignified and voluntary return and reintegration into BiH, keeping in mind the best interest of the child by avoiding unnecessary separation of children from their primary caregivers and prioritizing family based care for children as a primary option for placement;
– Ensure that children suspected or accused of committing or abetting crimes are entitled to international fair trial and juvenile justice standards;
– Commence without delay planning of appropriate adaptation and integration measures for these children through a multi-sectoral approach involving joint efforts of all relevant actors, including non-governmental organizations that can provide adequate support services,” reads the open letter.
They commend steps being taken by relevant authorities in BiH with respect to ensuring the effective return of children of BiH foreign fighters, including the concurrent paradigm shift toward a perspective and approach that recognizes the shortfalls and dangers of over- securitization, as well as the key role of civil and public sectors in the joint undertaking to support the active return, rehabilitation, recovery and reintegration of affected children into communities.
“Our organizations stand at your disposal for any additional information. We are open to be included in the process of development of preparation measures for the return and integration of children of foreign fighters from BiH from Syria and Iraq,” conclude the three organizations./ibna