Iraq: Women and children trapped at Al-Hol, a vast camp in northeast Syria with a population of 57,000 people, face dismal conditions and almost daily abuse from the camp’s numerous hard-line inmates who still adhere to Daesh’s extremist ideology.

According to Save the Children, the camp is rife with violence, with at least 130 murders reported since March 2019. In the year 2021 alone, two persons were assassinated on average every week, often with impunity and in full front of children.

The vast majority of these attacks occurred at Al-main Hol’s camp, which houses Syrian and Iraqi nationals. Women and children from at least 60 additional nations are housed in the Al-Hol annex, which has also experienced insecurity.

“We give services, but it is still a camp at the end of the day, and as such, it is insufficient as a housing project,” Dr. Alan Dahir, a Kurdish Red Crescent official who supervises the facility, told Arab News.

“The majority of children are orphans. While I do not believe they have been forgotten, particularly the foreign women, their respective countries have yet to claim them.”

Living circumstances in Al-Hol, according to Imene Trabelsi, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provides basic assistance, are significantly below international standards in terms of access to food, water, healthcare, and education.

“There are children who have sadly spent their entire short lives in camps like Al-Hol, having been born and dying within the perimeter,” Trabelsi told Arab News.

“Tens of thousands of additional children are spending their crucial early years in such conditions, in full notice and knowledge of the international community and their own countries of origin.”

A fire ripped through section of the camp in February of last year, killing at least eight people and critically injuring many more, including more than a dozen children. Respiratory tract infections and malnutrition are common due to the typically harsh climate and lack of services.

“Children are constantly exposed to hazards, and their rights are frequently disregarded. “The world cannot turn a blind eye while children take their first and last breaths in camps or grow up stateless and in limbo,” Trabelsi stated.
A fire ripped through section of Al-Hol camp in February 2021, killing at least eight people and critically injuring many more.

Fearing political repercussions, Western nations have been hesitant to return their citizens.

“This is one of our day’s most serious and complex child safety crises, and it’s past time for the political will to act before more lives are wasted.”
People have been displaced by hostilities that have shook the region throughout the years, and Al-Hol has been a safe haven for them. However, once Daesh’s last territorial holdout of Baghouz in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor was defeated in March 2019, its population exploded.

Thousands of women and children, many of them the families of militants detained or dead, were trucked from Baghouz to Al-Hol in Hasakah, where they have stayed under the watchful eye of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces ever since.

“At the time, I hadn’t eaten in what seemed like weeks. “We were left to practically eat grass,” claimed Ayman, a young Yazidi who was kidnapped as a toddler and forced to fight in Daesh’s ranks in Baghouz.

“We didn’t have anything.” I’m not sure how I managed to stay alive. I wound up in Al-Hol and was eventually rescued thanks to the efforts of locals hunting for Yazidi survivors.”

Thousands of women and children were abducted and forcibly converted to Daesh’s distorted vision of Islam when militants surged into the Yazidi ancestral homelands of Sinjar in northeastern Iraq in the summer of 2014.
Many of these former hostages were either afraid to identify as Yazidi or too indoctrinated to leave their former captors inside Al-Hol by the time the group was territorially destroyed in early 2019.

“I consider myself fortunate,” Ayman said to Arab News. “Some of my female friends and acquaintances have refused to be rescued. They preferred to remain at the camp under the radar since they had been brainwashed and traumatized. I’m not sure what happened to them now.”

Aid organizations have long advocated for the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of Syrian and Iraqi families to their homes in Al-Hol, as well as the repatriation of children of foreign combatants and their mothers to their home countries.

“I’ve been working on this issue since 2018, and I’ve been able to return roughly 40 people to their homelands.” “The majority of the victims were youngsters,” said Peter Galbraith, a former US official, to Arab News.
Western nations have been hesitant to return their citizens, fearing political repercussions, financial costs, and even security threats if authorities fail to try suspected Islamist militants successfully.

“Part of the problem is that the UN and other NGOs say countries should return their citizens, but no one is actually doing it,” Galbraith explained. “Screaming about something and not working it out doesn’t help.” Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and France, find it easier and less expensive to keep their citizens in northeast Syria. Bringing them home and putting them through a trial, sentencing, and then sending them to jail would cost thousands of dollars instead of a few hundred dollars to keep them in the camp.”

As a result, Western governments have practically abandoned thousands of children who ended up in the camp through no fault of their own, leaving them susceptible to violence, sickness, and radicalization.

“The children end up paying for their parents’ mistakes,” Galbraith added. “Every man and woman who chose to join Daesh acted on their own initiative in some way. The children who were transported here or who were born here had no option. They’ve been sentenced to life in jail.” They’re also at risk of child marriage and being raised by the camps’ hard-line extremist women. When we found an American orphan, he was being raised by a Somali extremist woman. Children are at risk of falling into the hands of merciless human traffickers who will do everything for a buck. After their ordeals with Daesh, some Yazidi women were trafficked into prostitution by these smugglers.

“Children must be removed from their homes and placed in villages or foster care.”

Rather than speeding up repatriation plans, Western governments have sought to delegate the problem to SDF-controlled jails, Iraq’s primitive legal system, or the cash-strapped Kurdish-run authorities and relief organisations operating in Al-Hol.

The risks of outsourcing the problem were vividly highlighted in January of this year, when Daesh remnants launched a large and highly sophisticated attack on a Hasakah jail where thousands of its former warriors were being kept under SDF guard.
According to other accounts, 374 militants were killed in the raid, along with 77 prison guards, 40 SDF troops, and four civilians. About 400 detainees are still missing, implying that a large proportion of them escaped.
The attack was the latest in a string of attacks and attempted escapes at camps and prisons around the region, raising the possibility that Daesh is resurrecting in a place where they had previously been regarded a spent force.

Meanwhile, Al-children Hol’s are rapidly maturing into adults, politicized by their mothers and classmates and angry of their mistreatment. Aid organizations warn that unless their predicament is promptly addressed and their psychological needs are treated, they may suffer severe and long-term consequences.

In a recent statement, Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director, said, “Children cannot continue to live in such horrific conditions.”
“The level of violence they face on a daily basis in Al-Hol is awful. Insecurity in the camp must be efficiently addressed without adding to these children’s stress and dread, and they urgently require greater psychosocial care to cope with their experiences. However, the only long-term solution to this problem is to assist children and their families in leaving the camp securely and freely.

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