Iraq to repatriate 500 families from Syrian camp holding thousands with ties to ISIS

Families held in northern Syria's sprawling al-Hol camp prepare to be transfered to another location. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Families held in northern Syria's sprawling al-Hol camp prepare to be transfered to another location. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Preparations are underway for Baghdad to repatriate 500 families, the Iraqi parents of which are suspected of affiliation to the Islamic State, three years after initial plans to transfer them stalled, said a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led self-administration in northeastern Syria after meeting with an Iraqi delegation on the matter.

“They reached an agreement that 500 Iraqi families from al-Hol Camp be repatriated back to their country in multiple phases,” Luqman Ahmi said in an interview with Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday.

"The Self Administration of North and East Syria has always appealed to international states to repatriate their citizens from al-Hol Camp,” he added.

Two years ago 1,700 families at al-Hol registered with the United Nations for future voluntary repatriation to their home countries.

Also on Wednesday, an official from the camp’s departure office told the Syrian Kurdish Hawar news agency (ANHA), “Now, identities of those referred to the Iraqi Government in 2018 are under verification.”

“After verification and receiving security permission,” he continued, “100 families would exit the camp in the coming days, until all the 500 families exit.”

The Iraqi government previously made plans to bring home as many as 30,000 Iraqis who were captured in 2019 within the last territory Kurdish forces liberated from the extremist organization in Syria.

Iraqi officials intended to create a new camp in the al-Amla area of Nineveh province’s al-Zummar subdistrict, but that seemingly fell through and there was no new information about the camp after Iraq began to close camps for displaced civilians last year.

ANHA reported that no Iraqis had been repatriated since 2018.

In March, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Abdi called on foreign countries to take back their citizens from Syria and provide more humanitarian support to the sprawling al-Hol camp near Hasakah after the Asayish and SDF launched the operation to weed out Islamic State cells from the camp amid a slew of assassinations and other violence.

On April 2, the Asayish General Command announced the arrest of 125 Islamic State suspects after ending the first phase of the al-Hol campaign. Earlier this week, the SDF said it captured a senior Islamic State member.

The majority of al-Hol’s over 60,000 residents are Iraqis and Syrians, but the camp also includes a large number of foreign residents thought to be tied to the Islamic State.

Local authorities decided in early October to expedite the departure of displaced Syrian families from al-Hol as part of a new program, but the Iraqi government had refused to repatriate most Iraqis living in the camp.

Acting Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS John Godfrey told reporters on March 29 that they would work with the Iraqi government to move back the 30,000 Iraqis in al-Hol “as expeditiously and responsibly as we can.”

Editing by John J. Catherine