A woman sorts used clothing at the al-Hawl camp in northeast Syria, January 2020 (AFP)
Authorities in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria say they will remove all non-combatant Syrians from the overcrowded al-Hawl camp.
The camp, with about 65,000 occupants, holds Islamic State fighters and their families as well as other displaced people. The UN estimates there are 28,000 Syrians, 30,000 Iraqis, and about 10,000 other foreigners in the complex. The majority of occupants — almost 40,000 — – are children from more than 60 countries.
The Kurdish authorities have been criticized over the camp’s poor conditions, including lack of sanitation and water. The UN agency for children, UNICEF, said in August that eight juveniles had died from malnutrition-related complications, diarrhoea, heart failure, internal bleeding, and/or hypoglycemia.
Riyad Derar, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, said on Monday, “Syrian nationals will leave the al-Hol camp and only foreigners will remain.”
Syrians who fought with ISIS will not be moved, but relatives will be released with guarantees from their families.
The SDC’s Ilham Ahmed said that if any Syrian chooses to remain in the overcrowded camp, “this would not be the responsibility of the administration”.
Derar said Iraqis will be allowed to leave on a voluntary basis, but asserted that many want to remain because they fear imprisonment in Iraq for alleged links to the Islamic State.
Foreign governments have balked at repatriation of their nationals from the camp. In mid-September, all Australian women and children were moved to another camp, but Canberra refused any return to Australia.
US officials claimed last week that all known Americans allegedly supporting Islamic State have been repatriated, some to face criminal charges. They urged European countries to account for their citizens.
Kurdish authorities had released some Syrian residents in recent months after guarantees from Arab tribes. The UN reported in July that 4,345 had left the camp since June 2019.