The repatriation of foreign children living in Syrian camps dropped by over two thirds in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Save the Children flagged on Monday.
According to the children's rights charity, an estimated 200 foreign children were repatriated in 2020 from camps in north-east Syria, down from 685 in 2019. The number of repatriations fell from 29 to 17.
More than 42,000 foreign and Iraqi nationals are currently living in overcrowded camps in north-east Syria, including the Al Hol camp where children under the age of 12 make up over half of the 64,000-strong population. Save the Children estimate that 27,500 foreign children are still awaiting repatriation.
"These new figures show that before the outbreak of the virus, things were finally starting to move in the right direction. But sadly, for many children, the opportunity for a better life has been put on hold as repatriations by international governments decreased notably throughout 2020," Save the Children’s Syria Response Director Sonia Khush said in a statement.
"Yet we know it is still possible. Last month France repatriated seven children, and in September a British child supported by Save the Children was taken back home to safety. It is possible to save a young life when the political will is there."
“Foreign children in displacement camps in north-east Syria are living through the hardest conditions imaginable; those who get sick are unlikely to receive treatment. They don’t have access to clean water or adequate food. Recent examples of violence and fears of a mass COVID-19 outbreak only add to their suffering," she added.
So far, 975 children have been repatriated from Syria since 2017, 70 per cent of whom were returned in 2019.
More than 400 were repatriated to Kazakhstan. It is followed by Uzbekistan and Russia which repatriated 181 and 168 children respectively.
In Western Europe, France and Germany have repatriated the most with 28 and 19 children.