A 17-year-old Australian boy has sent his family voice messages from a Syrian prison, saying he fears for his life after his friends died beside him.
The boy says children as young as eight are being killed in the Guweiran prison and that he has been injured by gunfire.
"I'm seeing a lot of bodies of kids -eight years, 10 years, 12 years. My friends got killed here. I'm very scared, I'm by myself," he said.
"There's a lot of people dead, a lot of people injured, people are screaming next to me, people are scared. Please help me."
The boy says he's bleeding from bullet wounds and there are no doctors in the prison that are able to help.
"I just got shot by Apache (helicopter), my head is bleeding, I have injured my head and my hand," he says.
"I need help, we're getting hit from every side from the Kurds, we're getting hit by planes."
It's believed the boy has been in the prison since he was 15 after being separated from his mother after the capture of Baghouz - situated on the Syria-Iraq border - by ISIS in 2019.
The Save the Children organisation believes children are being used as human shields at the prison and has urged the Australian government to heed the boy's pleas.
"Save the Children warned Australian officials of the significant risks to Australian children in northeast Syria, including this boy," the organisation's acting CEO Mat Tinkler said.
"Will it take the death of an Australian child to compel the Australian government to act?"
It is estimated there are 650 children under the age of 18 in the prison, mostly Syrian and Iraqi.
The organisation has verified the audio messages.
Sonia Khush said the situation at the prison was distressing and outrageous.
"Responsibility for anything that happens to these children also lies at the door of foreign governments who have thought that they can simply abandon their child nationals in Syria," she said.
"Risk of death or injury is directly linked to these governments' refusal to take them home."
Human Rights Watch director Elaine Pearson said leaving Australians to languish in arbitrary detention in prisons or camps in northeast Syria is inhumane.
"The government has outsourced responsibility for them to an embattled non-state authority inside an active war zone," she said.
"The US-led coalition and local authorities should take all feasible steps to minimise further harm to the men and boys trapped inside Guweiran Prison during operations to retake it from ISIS."
Ms Pearson said the boys have never been charged or brought before a judge to determine the legality or necessity of their detention.
"Australian boys and men imprisoned in northeast Syria should have been prosecuted or released long ago," she said.
"Children should only be detained as an exceptional measure of last resort."
Save the Children has been supporting boys in the prison since 2020, providing relief supplies and fresh food.
The organisation has called on the federal government to bring the children to Australia.
"The only way the Australian government can guarantee their safety is to bring these innocent children to Australia immediately," Mr Tinkler said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters she was seeking further advice about the matter, noting that Australia did not have diplomatic representation in Syria.
She said the government had been clear about the challenges faced by Australian citizens in the region.
Australian Associated Press
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