Iraqi delegation discusses repatriation of Iraqis from Syria's al-Hol camp
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has reported that a delegation from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry visited Syria's al-Hol camp to engage in discussions regarding repatriation.
Reportedly, the Iraqi delegation focused on establishing a mechanism for the monthly repatriation of 150 Iraqi families from the al-Hol camp back home to Iraq. This initiative is set to be coordinated in collaboration with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
During the 3rd United Nations High-Level Conference on Counter-Terrorism in New York in June, Iraqi National Security Advisor Qassim al-Araji stated that Iraq has already repatriated a total of 5,569 individuals from the al-Hol camp.
The al-Hol camp currently houses thousands of Iraqi, Syrian, and foreign nationals. Additionally, the camp has witnessed a number of security-related incidents and fatalities.
The most recent report from the Pentagon Lead Inspector General to the US Congress, covering the period from April 1, 2023, to June 30, 2023, noted that ISIS has been actively attempting to indoctrinate and recruit individuals residing in displaced persons camps.
Particularly, the al-Hol camp continues to experience incidents related to ISIS violence and activities, albeit at a reduced rate.
The report indicated that the camp's current population stands at 49,000 people, which is a decrease from its peak of over 70,000 individuals in 2019.
Moreover, it said a total of 1,377 security personnel are currently active in al-Hol, including 112 female guards. The coalition's objective is to provide training for 3,000 security personnel in the al-Hol camp by the year 2024.
In addition, it said that “Iraq worked directly with the SDF to repatriate 50 detainees”.
During a meeting between Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet al-Abbasi and the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday, Austin also expressed appreciation to Iraq for “reducing the number of detained ISIS fighters and displaced persons in northeast Syria.”
Mehmet Balci, Co-Director at Fight For Humanity, a Switzerland based international NGO, told Kurdistan 24 that the “humanitarian situation in the camps is unbearable from many aspects. All concerned states have to repatriate their citizens.”
“Iraqi citizens constitute the 50% of the al-Hol camp’s population and children are the largest part of the Iraqi population in the camps. Iraq should take all action possible and bring back as soon as possible its citizens.”
Devorah Margolin, a Blumenstein-Rosenbloom Fellow at The Washington Institute, told Kurdistan 24 that “so far in 2023, we have seen approximately 1,800 Iraqis repatriated from detention camps and 150 from detention centers.”
“While this may seem like a small drop in the bucket, this is significant movement, and 2023 is on track to be the largest year of Iraqi repatriations to date. It is important that the US and Iraq work to ensure that this pace first and foremost continues, but it should also do it in an appropriate and measured manner that considers proper security vetting and reintegration efforts. Bringing these individuals home to Iraq is just the first step in a long process.”
“It is great to see the numbers in Al-Hol drop below 50,000 for the first time ever. This needs to be acknowledged as a huge accomplishment. But it is not the end of the hard work; the cases that remain need to be addressed in a timely manner,” she concluded.