GENEVA — Hundreds of young children have died from disease and malnutrition in the desert camp holding families of Islamic State fighters in northeast Syria, United Nations investigators said on Tuesday, warning that international inaction on the situation risked incubating a new wave of extremism.
The Commission of Inquiry, created by the United Nations Human Rights Council that is monitoring the conflict in Syria, said at least 390 children had died of preventable causes in the first half of the year while in, or on their way to, Al Hol, the camp set up to take in families fleeing the last strongholds of the Islamic State in Syria.
Their deaths exposed the “intolerable” conditions for the 70,000 people, more than 90 percent of them women and children, who are crammed into the Kurdish-run camp, with little access to medicine and food.
Their plight highlighted international paralysis over what to do with the residents, including 11,000 foreigners from dozens of countries, many of them still fervent supporters of Islamic State ideology, who have been shunned by their governments and in some cases stripped of their nationality.
The children who died, most of them weakened by long-term malnutrition and dehydration, had succumbed to diseases like pneumonia and dysentery, the commission said.
International organizations and rights groups had earlier sounded the alarm over conditions in Al Hol, described by Human Rights Watch in July as a “dust bowl inferno” where young children with “emaciated limbs and swollen bellies sifted through mounds of stinking garbage under a scorching sun or lay limp on tent floors, their bodies dusted with dirt and flies.”
The conditions have fueled tensions in the camp, where radicalized women had carried out attacks, beatings and the burning of tents of women who were perceived as “infidels,” the commission noted.
Although some countries have repatriated their nationals, the commission said it had seen no effort by most countries to understand who was in the camp and who should be taken back, flouting their obligations to the children under international conventions, the report said.
The women and children trapped in this legal and political limbo “remain at higher risk of further radicalization,” the commission said.
At a time when states were looking for ways to tackle root causes of violent radicalization, their inaction on Al Hol was instead creating “another generation of people with grievances against us,” said Hanny Megally, a commission member.
Britain drew international criticism last month over its decision to strip the citizenship of Jack Lets, a former Islamic State fighter, as well as that of the teenager Shamima Begum, whose infant died in Al Hol in March.
The United States defense secretary, Mark Esper, warned this month that refusal by Britain and other European countries to repatriate around 2,000 former fighters was creating an “untenable situation” that posed a threat to the region’s security.
United Nations analysts, drawing on intelligence from member states, warned last month that Islamic State members remained active in Syria and has crossed into Iraq, successfully building a covert network of cells and creating safe havens that posed a major threat to security.