Syrians unlikely to be moved from al-Hol camp in near future: Official
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Despite a top Syrian Kurdish official's announcement last week that Syrian nationals would soon be transferred from the infamous al-Hol displacement camp in the northern part of the country, the process will apparently take more time.
“There is no change, as I said. It is a slow process that never stopped. Mostly, it’s about Deir al-Zor women and children to return to their communities after a long process. Maybe it will accelerate a bit,” a Syrian working in US-led stabilization efforts told Kurdistan 24.
“I also talked to a self-administration official and he confirmed what I said.”
During a meeting in Raqqa on Oct. 3, Ilham Ahmad, President of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), announced that they plan to empty the al-Hol camp from Syrians completely.
Her statement came in response to complaints from Arab communities that their families are stuck at al-Hol.
The camp witnessed an increase in numbers of residents during an offensive by Syrian Kurdish-led forces, backed by the US-led coalition, to defeat the so-called Islamic State in its last bastion of Baghouz that ended on March 23, 2019. The camp was initially built for only 43,000 people.
According to United Nations data from July, al-Hol holds 65,406 people, comprising of 47 percent Iraqis (30,573), 38 percent Syrians (24,914), and 15 percent third-country nationals (foreign Islamic State families—9,912).
Only the Syrian families who wish to leave Al Hol camp are free to leave.The families of foreign fighters and Syrians who have serious accusations will remain in the camp. The status quo of the camp will remain the same pic.twitter.com/nDBYHHNPBd— Elham Ahmad (@ElhamAhmadSDC) October 5, 2020
“We will remove the Syrians from the camp altogether, leaving only the foreign nationals, who will be dealt with in a different way,” Ahmad said. “This will be achieved through a ruling yet to be released. We have asked the [SDC’s] Legislative Council to issue a general amnesty—of course, depending on verdict and offence.”
Ahmad added that the al-Hol Camp is creating a heavy burden on the shoulders of the local administration. “The AANES is not obliged to pay exorbitant sums in order to provide these people with food and other things, let alone [deal with] the problems that arise daily including assassinations, rape, and so on.”
So far, many countries have refused to repatriate their citizens from the camp. Moreover, Iraqis at the camp have not returned despite attempts by the local Administration to repatriate them.
“Until now, the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria has released around 4,000 locals to their home communities through planned releases through guarantors: local tribal sheikhs who take responsibility for these men women and children and affirm they do not have any further links with ISIS,” Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24.
He added that Arab communities in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor have lobbied for a long time to allow Syrians that are stuck in al-Hol to leave—including in recent SDC meetings held in different Kurdish and Arab cities in northeast Syria.
“Many of these people were involved with ISIS in some capacity before; maybe not directly as family members or giving logistical support,” he said.
However, he warned that the release of all 25,000 Syrians would be a big step. “The details have to be clarified and there will be a new law in due course.”
Another reason it would be difficult to empty the camp from displaced Syrians is that many of them live in areas under regime control.
The US-backed SDF control territory east of the Euphrates River while pro-regime and Iranian-backed forces dominate the western banks, including Deir al-Zor.
During meetings and protests in Deir al-Zor, certain Arab communities have asked the Coalition and the SDF to liberate some of these villages from regime control in the West of the Euphrates, so they can return to their homes.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany