Two days ago, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a large scale security operation in the al Hol camp in NE Syria. The camp houses suspected family members of ISIS and the operations were launched to make the camp safe for it’s residents and NGOs to work in the camp after a spate of murders in the camp.
Although SDF forces had secured and policed the perimeter of the camp, there has been an increasing number of incidents of murders inside the camp of residents of the camp by Islamic State militants who have been strengthening their organisation inside the camp.
The al Hol camp has always presented the SDF with a big humanitarian and political challenge in the fight against ISIS. The SDF has been left largely alone, by the international community to manage this difficult issue.
The camp is unique in that all of the residents of the camp had previously lived under ISIS control and includes family members of ISIS fighters, including a large number of foreign nationals.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) has been constantly requesting that the countries from which these foreign ISIS fighters come from do more to help and that their nationals are tried in their countries of origin so that these countries can work with the AANES to deliver justice to the victims of ISIS and jointly manage the humanitarian, security and political issues that have resulted in the establishment of the al Hol camp.
The Autonomous Administration have been working hard to try to resolve this issues and in Oct 2020 granted an amnesty to those inside the camp who have not been involved in serious crimes or murders. This reduced the numbers in the camp from around 73,000 to around it’s present number of approximately 60,000.
The SDF has also been conducting ongoing investigations and arresting of ISIS members, processing them through their own legal and rehabilitation procedures.
However, there has been a big increase in killings in the camp, 40 since the beginning of the year and so the SDF have now moved to reduce the influence of ISIS in the camp.
The SDF said the ongoing operations inside the camp would continue and last for around 10 days involving thousands of their security forces. The US-led coalition have reportedly been providing, “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” support to the SDF during the operations, according to AFP.
Up to 30 Syrians and foreigners “suspected of supporting ISIS” have been arrested so far with the operations ongoing.
In a report published last month, the UN said it had documented cases of ISIS “radicalisation, fundraising, training and incitement of external operations” at al-Hol camp.
It also warned over the fate of around 7,000 children living in a special annex designated for foreign IS relatives. They are “being groomed as future ISIS operatives”, according to the United Nations.
Despite repeated calls by the UN and Kurdish authorities for countries to repatriate their nationals, only a limited number of people, mostly children, have been allowed to return.