Iraq repatriates citizens from ISIS-linked Syrian camp

Iraq has recently repatriated hundreds of its citizens held in the ISIS-affiliated Al Hol camp located in Syria, as reported by The National News and agencies on April 30.

According to an Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration official, approximately 700 people – 191 families – entered Iraq on April 28.

Under protection of both US and Kurdish troops – who are responsible for administrating north-eastern Syria, including Al Hol camp – the Iraqi nationals were escorted on buses and subsequently transferred to Iraqi security forces along the border.

Upon arrival, the repatriates were sent to a psychological rehabilitation camp, Al Jadaa, located near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

The duration of their stay at Jadaa will vary between “either weeks or months depending on the rehabilitation process before being integrated to their communities”, and the passing of security tests, according to the unnamed official.

This recent repatriation follows an earlier one in March, which saw 160 Iraqi families rehabilitated in Al Jadaa.

The run-down Al Hol camp, once housing over 50,000 individuals including ISIS-affiliated individuals and their families, in addition to Syrian and Iraqi refugees, is managed by Kurdish forces.

While repatriation efforts began in 2021 Al Hol remains the largest camp for refugees following ISIS’ territorial defeat in 2019.

READ: ISIS executes 8 Syrian regime soldiers

The question over what to do with the ISIS-linked families – including children, who make up over 65 per cent of the camp’s population – remains a pressing humanitarian crisis in the region.

Today, the camp is home to over 43,000 Syrians and Iraqis.

Foreigners from at least 45 various countries also live in the camp’s cramped and unsanitary conditions.

Over 93 per cent of the camp is made up of women and children, with children under 12 years old constituting 51% of the total population.

READ: Syria: Children pay price in refugee camps

Governments of foreign nationals detained in the camp have been hesitant to repatriate their citizens over security fears.

But Iraqi authorities, led by National Security Advisor Qasim Al Araji, have pushed alongside the UN for an increase in repatriations, and the eventual closure of the camp.

Al Araji has repeatedly cited the camp as a security concern, owing to its close proximity to Iraq.

While between May 2021 and March 2024 over 1,920 families have been returned to Iraq, it remains a source of controversy.

Iraqis suffered greatly under ISIS’ rule, enduring the imposition of Sharia law and atrocities committed by the group in the northern regions under its administration, including Mosul.

While the repatriation efforts have garnered support from the UN and US, some Iraqis have expressed opposition to the return of family members linked to the group.

ISIS notably still represents a threat, continuing attacks against civilians and local security forces in Iraq and Syria.

Although the Iraqi source did not disclose plans for additional repatriations, London-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has confirmed 250 families are expected to return to Iraq “in the coming days”.


The National News / Agencies

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