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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Thousands of children living under ISIS rule are traumatised, says British charity

Nervousness, withdrawal and aggression are some of the signs of psychological distress

Civilians who have fled fighting in Baghouz wait to board trucks after being screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at a makeshift screening point in the desert. Getty Images
Civilians who have fled fighting in Baghouz wait to board trucks after being screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at a makeshift screening point in the desert. Getty Images

Thousands of children displaced from the last ISIS redoubt in north-eastern Syria show signs of psychological distress, a British charity said on Wednesday.

Save the Children observed the children at the Al-Hol camp for people displaced by fighting as US-backed forces battle ISIS in the last scrap of territory it holds in the village of Baghouz.

"Children are showing signs of psychological distress, including nervousness, withdrawal, aggression, nightmares and bed-wetting, especially among children aged 10 to 14 years old," said Save the Children.

Infants who fled ISIS-held areas were "likely to have witnessed acts of brutality and lived under intense bombardment and deprivation in the last enclave held by the group", it said. "Many will likely need long term mental health and psycho-social support to recover from their experiences."

One of the children cited in the report was an 11-year-old named Mai who recalled witnessing beheadings and other acts of violence.

"Whenever they saw a woman talking with a man they would stone them, and they would behead prisoners in front of their family," she was quoted as saying.

"I always tried not to look when there were beheadings. I would hide behind my mum."

At the Al-Hol camp, Save the Children said it had set up recreational spaces, as well as a centre to deal with unaccompanied children.

But "much more needs to be done to help these children recover", said Save the Children's Syria response director, Sonia Khush.

"That includes funding and access for case management and protective services, and for foreign children repatriation to their countries of origin."

The British charity says more than 2,500 foreign children from 30 countries, including 1,100 who fled the last ISIS pocket of Baghouz since January, now live in three camps for the displaced in northeast Syria.

Several thousand people are believed to remain in Baghouz, which once straddled Syria and Iraq and ruled millions.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, about 50,000 people have quit Baghouz, which is in the Euphrates Valley, since December 2018.

Syria's civil war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Updated: February 27, 2019 09:13 AM

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