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Al-Hol camp in Syria is a 'ticking time bomb', warns UN

UN Special Representative, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert on 5 October 2021 [Murtadha Al-Sudani/Anadolu Agency]

The United Nations has called for the resolution of the situation of the Al-Hol camp in north-east Syria, warning that it is a "ticking time bomb".

Speaking at a conference in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on Saturday, the UN Special Representative, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, stated that "In al-Hol camp, mere hours from the Iraqi border, nearly 30,000 Iraqis with varying degrees of association to Daesh – including victims of Daesh, and others with no association at all – remain in limbo".

Al-Hol is the largest and most populated of the camps in north-east Syria, in which tens of thousands of relatives of Daesh fighters have been kept since the military defeat of the terror group in the Syrian town of Baghuz in 2019. Captured fighters, meanwhile, have been detained in prisons throughout the area.

The camp's residents overwhelmingly consist of women and children, and the conditions are reported to be poor, deteriorating and uninhabitable. There is also significant crime committed in the camp, including murder. Both the camps and the prisons are run by the Kurdish militias in north-east Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People's Protection Units (YPG).

"Three out of 5 residents of Al-Hol are under 17; one in 5 is under 5 years of age. These innocent children have only ever known this harsh environment; many of them are being denied the most basic rights, including education," Hennis-Plasschaert stated.

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Many human rights organisations, as well as the Iraqi government, have warned that the conditions and lack of education will leave the children of the camps vulnerable to radicalisation and extremist elements from Daesh if they are not repatriated and rehabilitated as soon as possible.

"These children find themselves at risk of forced recruitment and exposure to violent extremism," she said, adding that "a continued status quo is – without a doubt – the riskiest option."

With the majority of the camp's residents at around 56,000 hailing from Iraq and Syria, and around ten thousand others being foreign nationals, the UN Special Representative pointed out that the Iraqi government has done remarkably well in repatriating its citizens compared to other countries.

Since May last year, she said, around 450 families – almost 1,800 individuals – have been repatriated by Baghdad. "In terms of proactively taking steps to fulfil its obligations to repatriate its nationals, Iraq has set an example on the global stage."

Hennis-Plasschaert concluded that "Al-Hol is a ticking time bomb. If it goes off, it will impact not only the region but also far beyond." A confirmation of such warnings was seen in January, when Daesh fighters attempted to break fellow members out of a prison in north-east Syria, resulting in a week-long battle with SDF and the killing of over 320 people before SDF's eventual recapture of the facility.

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International OrganisationsMiddle EastNewsSyriaUN
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