The Al-Hol refugee camp, located in eastern Al-Hasakah (Heseke), is the largest in the region, and also the most dangerous. After the operations carried out in 2019 to remove ISIS, the families of ISIS members were settled here, and today tens of thousands of women and children from at least 53 different nationalities are living in the camp, which has been under the control of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) since 2015.
Here, in the Al-Hol Camp, the children of members of ISIS gangs are potential murderers and suicide bombers. The parents of these children have carried out many killings, and many of the mothers are bringing their children up with the ISIS mindset. A statement of one of the women supporting ISIS serves as an example to show that unfortunately some of these children need to be protected even from their own mothers.
“The children are not obliged to kill infidels. But they must either choose to be Muslim or be killed. The children can explore for themselves. If their faith is strong enough, they can blow themselves up among our enemies and the infidels.”
Twenty-two thousand children of tender age have been left behind by their ISIS fighter fathers, and they have inherited from those fathers the black hope that one day the Islamic Caliphate will be established. Many threats and justifications have been used to hammer these ideas into their minds when they were very young. They have been forced to watch ISIS videos of beheadings to learn how to be ‘real fighters’.
Life here is also extremely dangerous for children. Since the beginning of this year, at least 73 people have been killed and at least 66 children have lost their lives in this camp.
AANES officials have been expending great efforts to protect these children from the black ideas instilled in their minds. Xewla Fewzîya, the mother of four children who have lost their father, was working today in the Haseke camp for educating and rehabilitating the children of ISIS members.
“Our children became orphans because of ISIS. But they are not at fault, and cannot be held responsible for what has happened. I want to demonstrate that we can change the minds of the children. Unfortunately, they have been brought up with terrorist ideology by their mothers. But here we educate them to save them from becoming terrorists’’
A total number of around 1,800 ISIS families, 8,000 children and 4,000 women have been living in the Roj and al-Hol camps, and there are two education centres for the children of ISIS in North and East Syria. The Hawri centre has been set up for children from ages 12 to 17, and the Hilat centre is for those from ages 2 to 12. There are various ongoing problems at the centres, as the boys do not want to be educated together with the girls, and the children consider listening to music a sin. But there is also hope.
“We have been educated in the English and Arabic languages. My mother advises me to forget all the memories of war, killings and blood,” says the son of an ISIS member who is going through rehabilitation at one of the centres.
Today 120 children can be educated in these centres at one time, but currently only 55 are attending. The centres were established jointly by the Women’s Defence Units (YPJ) and units of the international coalition against ISIS. There is an emphasis on languages and rehabilitation in the educational courses the children receive. Some children stay in the centre overnight too, as they have no parents, while others attend for 8 hours a day, returning to their mothers at night.