Iraq Refuses to Take Back ISIS Members... The Ticking Time Bomb of Syria’s “al-Hol” Refugee Camp

Wednesday 12 May 202106:16 pm
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حتى العراق يرفض استعادة "دواعشه"... فصل من "الهول" في مخيمات سوريا

More than a hundred Iraqi families have left the al-Hol (also known as al-Hawl) refugee camp — located in the Autonomous Administration areas of North and East Syria (also known as Rojava) under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — headed for Iraq. This move comes in accordance with a plan that is being implemented under the supervision of the United Nations.

The plan states that those detained in the notorious al-Hol refugee camp will move to “Zummar refugee camp”, also called the “al-Omlah refugee camp”. The camp is located west of the Iraqi district of Zummar, near the Kurdish deployment centers in Iraq, about 65 kilometers from the center of Sinjar district, and nearly 75 kilometers from the center of the city of Mosul in the governorate of Nineveh.

Although the plan was for nations to begin receiving their returning citizens from the camp, many countries decided to refuse readmitting citizens who joined ISIS, while other countries chose to readmit the children of European ISIS fighters without their parents

From One Prison to Another

The two refugee camps of al-Roj and al-Hol, located in northeastern Syria, are the main centers of detention for the families of ISIS fighters. The two refugee sites became the fate of many fighters and their families following the victory of Kurdish forces — under great support from the international coalition led by the United States of America — and their control over large areas in Syria, as well as the subsequent defeat of the terrorist organization in Iraq after a major security campaign. Al-Roj refugee camp began receiving the families of ISIS fighters in 2015, while al-Hol refugee camp began receiving them from the year 2016.

Although the original plan was for the presence of these fighters and their families to be a temporary one, and for countries to begin receiving the citizens that had joined ISIS, many world countries — including New Zealand, England, and a number of European Union countries — decided to refuse to readmit their own citizens, while other countries chose to readmit the children of European ISIS fighters, but without their parents.

These countries refuse to take back their citizens — who are being held by the Kurds — for fear of possible terrorist activity on their own land, despite the efforts of the United Nations and other international organizations and agencies to solve the “problem” of these families that are detained in northeastern Syria. The efforts come as part of an international approach to dismantle this camp, with some countries considering it a “dangerous school of terrorism” and a hotbed of potential militants. Iraq, for its part, became one of the countries that refused to take back its citizens that had joined ISIS and are now residing in Syria.

It was agreed with the Iraqi government to build the Zummar camp in order to readmit Iraqis residing in al-Hol camp and rehabilitate the children and women there, but work was repeatedly halted due to from local political parties and armed factions

To Nineveh

Over the past few years, the United Nations held talks with a number of countries, including Iraq, regarding the families of ISIS fighters, stressing the need to return them to their countries or find radical solutions for them. Thus an agreement was reached with the Iraqi government to build the Zummar refugee camp (or al-Omlah refugee camp) with the aim of readmitting the Iraqi citizens residing in al-Hol refugee camp, and to start a program with international and UN support for the rehabilitation of children and women there, especially those “affiliated with or affected by extremist ideas.” However, work in the camp was halted several times due to pressure on the Iraqi government from local political parties and armed factions that are refusing to receive them.

Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria has about 30,000 Iraqis, 95% of whom are families that belong to ISIS. According to a number of news reports, a hundred families consisting of about 700 people — most of them from the Nineveh province — were recently transferred to Zummar. Meanwhile other reports said that, since Wednesday (on the 5th of May), a number of Iraqi buses began to enter al-Hol refugee camp, east of Hasakah, to transport about 500 Iraqi families residing in the refugee camp as the first of several batches that will be transported to Iraq, “in accordance with an agreement signed by the Iraqi government with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).” Raseef22 was unable to verify these numbers from an official source.

Refusal to Welcome the Families

One after the other, the statements of a number of Iraqi politicians came out to reject the return of Iraqi citizens residing in al-Hol refugee camp to Iraq. The governor of Nineveh province Najm al-Jubouri stated, “The Nineveh local government has not received any instructions regarding the return of ISIS guerrilla families from al-Hol refugee camp to the governorate,” confirming “the existence of a widespread public rejection of the return of these families.” He also appealed to the central government to further “reflect on this issue and study the situation in order to find suitable places for these families far from the governorate.”

The Security and Defense Committee of the Iraqi Parliament also described the return of families affiliated with ISIS to Nineveh governorate as extremely “dangerous”. Badr al-Ziyadi, a member of the committee, said that the decision to transfer these families “is dangerous and will cause many problems to Iraq” because these families “carry terrorist ideology.”

Member of Iraqi Parliament Saib Khidir stated that this decision “is dangerous and threatens the social fabric of the region,” adding that the presence of ISIS families “will threaten the stability and restore ISIS sleeper cells to these areas.”

The Future of the Residents of al-Hol and Al-Roj Camps

The Kurds are calling on world countries to take back their citizens that are detained in these two camps or establish an international court for them. However, so far, only a few children have been brought back, after a few countries such as Australia and Canada readmitted them into their territories, at a time when the refugee camp administration has allowed Syrian citizens to leave the refugee camp and return to their cities and towns.

In light of the international disregard for the fate of the residents of these two refugee camps, al-Hol refugee camp has turned into a “ticking time bomb” where attacks are being carried out on camp residents by others that still support and believe in ISIS. Dozens of killing and assault cases have been recorded so far, which prompted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) to call it “the al-Hol mini-state”. This has made managing the place with modest local capabilities and without any international assistance, “an exhausting, difficult, and dangerous matter”, according to the director of the refugee camp, Hamrin al-Hassan.

In the same context, the Iraqi MP and head of the Parliamentary Regions and Governorates Committee, Sherwan Al-Dubardani, wondered about the possibility of Iraqi families — that live in the refugee camps but do not belong to ISIS — to return to their country. He says, “If they are not ISIS members or families of ISIS members, then why doesn’t the government integrate them into Iraqi society and send them back to their homes? Why are they placed in the camps?”

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