Kurds to release 15,000 detained in overcrowded ISIS containment camps

All the Syrian nationals held in the camp are to be released as Kurds urge more international support

FILE PHOTO: Women walk through al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Photo
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Kurdish-led authorities say up to 15,000 Syrians could be moved out of the overcrowded Al Hol camp in north-east Syria which holds displaced people and families of ISIS fighters.

Kurdish fighters seized much of northern and eastern Syria from ISIS with US backing and have held thousands of militants in prisons, while their wives and children – numbering tens of thousands, many of them foreigners – are living in camps.

Al Hol camp alone houses nearly 65,000 people, including about 28,000 Syrians, 30,000 Iraqis and about 10,000 other foreigners, according to UN estimates. Kurdish officials have long called for more support to contain the ISIS prisoners and their families. Riots and breakouts from the camp are common.

"A decision will be issued to empty the Syrians from the camp completely," said Kurdish leader Ilham Ahmed in a video published by the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Kurdish-led SDF forces holding the region.

"Those who want to remain in the camp, this would not be the responsibility of the administration."

Unicef said in August that eight children had died in Al Hol, where it said children from 60 countries were languishing and Covid-19 infections among camp workers had worsened conditions.

Badran Jia Kurd, a vice president of the Kurdish-led authority that runs the SDF region, said some Syrians had already left the camp and that the process would be speeded up.

He cited a need to reduce the burden on the camp and step up measures to curb security incidents which he said had risen.

Kurdish leaders have repeatedly cautioned that the ISIS fighters and their families pose a security threat and that they cannot detain the foreigners indefinitely, but foreign governments have hesitated to repatriate their citizens.

The United States said last week that all known Americans allegedly supporting ISIS and being held in Syria had been returned, some to face criminal charges. It urged European countries to account for their citizens.

Mr Jia Kurd said that of the estimated 28,000 Syrians in the Al Hol camp, about 15,000 were from the mainly Arab areas of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, which the SDF captured from ISIS, and would be able to return if they chose to.

Many of the rest may not be able to leave if they have nowhere to go or do not want to return to territory under Syrian state rule, he said.

Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of think tank the Counter Extremism Project, said there could be a major security risk with the movement of Syrians from Al-Hol.

He warned that any radicals who are tempted to flee the camp could join the majority of Syrian migrants and head to Europe.

“There are a significant amount of Syrians in Al-Hol who did not de-radicalise - if anything they re-radicalised and will come out with a new furore in their ideological thinking,” he said.

Describing such individuals as “extremely dangerous”, Mr Schindler added: “They pose a major threat to Europe.”