LONDON: Al-Hawl and Al-Roj, two squalid, vastly overcrowded detention camps in northeast Syria, are home to some 70,000 people — around 80 percent of them women and children — all in some way associated with Daesh, the terror group that dominated a third of the country and whole swathes of neighboring Iraq between 2014 and 2017.
Among them, some 27,500 children are waiting to be repatriated. Around 975 have been repatriated since 2017 — 70 percent of these in 2019. However, repatriations fell to around 200 children in 2020, down from 685 the previous year, due in part to travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But political considerations are also in play.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a director at the Center for Global Policy, Washington, D.C., who compiled a report for Arab News Research and Studies Unit based on field research in Syria and Turkey in 2020, believes the question of whether or not to repatriate these children is “unambiguous” and should be dealt with urgently.
“Everybody accepts that these children are completely innocent. Many of them were born in Syria and Iraq, many of them were born in the refugee camps, many of them were just brought over by family members at a very young age and they are now in their teens,” Ibrahim told an Arab News webinar on Thursday.
“Almost everybody accepts they are innocent parties in this conflict and should be repatriated to their countries of origin as soon as possible. Because being situated in the camps long term is not just detrimental to them, it’s actually detrimental to our security over the long term. You are essentially now grooming the next generation of Daesh radicals.”