Thousands of Iraqi refugees to return from Syria in weeks: Red Cross

About 20,000 Iraqi refugees, including women and children, are expected to return to their hometowns in weeks under an agreement with the Iraqi government.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – About 20,000 Iraqi refugees, including women and children, are expected to return to their hometowns in weeks under an agreement with the Federal Government of Iraq, a senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of people, many of whom were the wives and children of Islamic State members, either surrendered or were taken from the front lines in the battle against the extremist group in Syria.

Due to the significant number of civilians, the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had to slow down their advance to liberate the last territory the Islamic State controls in Baghouz, located in eastern Syria.

Most of them have been transferred to the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria where some 65,000 people are currently living. Many of them are Iraqis who fled from the Islamic State’s lost territory in Iraq, fearing revenge from Shia militias.

“Among the people who reached al-Hol camp you have a significant number of people who are of Iraqi origin. Figures are not official, but probably we are talking about 20,000 people, including women and children,” Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, told Reuters in Geneva.

“The Iraqi government has expressed its will to bring those people back, but it’s obviously a challenging situation,” he added. “Those people are considered a security threat, so it means that they will have to go through a screening process.”

He did not provide a specific date about the transfer of the 20,000 Iraqis but said it would be done in weeks or months.

He mentioned that most of them are civilians, but they could also include Islamic State fighters.

Recently, Iraqi authorities stated that the SDF had already handed 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees to Baghdad.

Carboni noted that at least 900 children are present at the al-Hol camp, who come from Europe, Central Asia, and southeast Asia. According to him, many of the children in the camp had seen their parents killed.

Many of the governments are trying to figure out how to deal with the suspected Islamic State militants and their families who fought with the extremist group in Iraq and Syria.

“Obviously, our approach is mainly a humanitarian approach, we don’t ignore the security threats or the political dimension of these returns,” the ICRC official stated.

“We are aware it is a difficult issue especially in Europe, but we believe that on humanitarian grounds, even if you look at this through a security angle, the solution goes through a return of those children and mothers.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany