Unknown gunmen continue to assassinate Iraqis in Syrian refugee camp

Women and children walk within al-Hol displacement camp in Syria’s Hasakah province, April 1, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Ali Hashisho)
Women and children walk within al-Hol displacement camp in Syria’s Hasakah province, April 1, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Ali Hashisho)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Thursday reported that unknown gunmen assassinated an Iraqi civilian in the sprawling al-Hol camp that houses tens of thousands of women affiliated to the Islamic State and their children.

The organization claimed the victim had been accused of working with intelligence units of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

This was the eighth recent murder of a displaced Iraqi refugee suspected of collaboration with local SDF fighters, Internal Security Forces (Asayish), or camp administration.

Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24 that his organization had documented at least seven deaths in al-Hol during the previous month alone, saying, “These high rates of attacks and fatalities continue into this month.”

“The key for this is that ISIS sees the net is closing around them in the camp and that the reforms that the Autonomous Administration has put in place, principally permitting all Syrian nationals not suspected of a serious association with ISIS to leave the company return to their homes, along with increased security checks.”

Although the SDF and the US-led Coalition announced the Islamic State’s territorial defeat in Syria on March 23, 2019, in Baghouz, the terror group’s sleeper cell attacks persist in areas liberated from their brutal rule, including in al-Hol camp.

The United Nations voiced significant concern over security conditions in the camp in October this year.

Read More: UN warns about conditions, security at a notorious Syrian displacement camp

According to UN data from July, al-Hol held 65,406 people at the time. Of these, 47 percent were Iraqis (30,573), 38 percent Syrians (24,914), and 15 percent third-country nationals, the adults of which were mostly foreigners who traveled to Syria or Iraq to join the Islamic State (9,912).

However, the number of Syrians in the camp is decreasing after local authorities decided in early October to expedite and increase departures of displaced Syrian families as part of a new reform program.

Data from the non-governmental organization Reach in October, suggested there are currently 64,077 people in al-Hol after a number of Syrians returned to their homes.

The news website Kirkuk Now reported earlier this year that Iraq was busy with constructing a camp with 3,000 tents so that displaced Iraqis from al-Hol can return

However, sources say that, so far, none of the adult Iraqis in al-Hol have returned to Iraq.

According to McClure, the solution to ongoing security issues in al-Hol camp is to bring Iraqi nationals back to Iraq.

However, he said that the Autonomous Administration has been complaining that it’s repeated requests to the federal Iraqi government to repatriate Iraqis from the camp have been ignored.

“Around half the Iraqi residents in the camp would like to go home to Iraq, but not hearing anything back from the Federal Iraqi government.”

However, he also noted that the other half of the Iraqis do not want to go home and that the Autonomous Administration “said it won’t kick anyone out.”

As a result, he predicted there would be Iraqis living in the al-Hol camp for the foreseeable future.

Editing by John J. Catherine