UN official: 700 people died in Syrian camps for Daesh families

The UN counterterrorism chief said his office received information that 700 people died recently in two camps in northeast Syria. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2020

UN official: 700 people died in Syrian camps for Daesh families

  • Vorontsov told a news conference Thursday that the people, including children, died of “lack of medicine, lack of food” at the Al-Hol and Roj camps
  • The overcrowded camps have a high child mortality rate

UNITED NATIONS: The UN counterterrorism chief said his office received information that 700 people died recently in two camps in northeast Syria, where more than 70,000 mainly women and children connected to Daesh fighters are detained in “very dire conditions.”
Vladimir Vorontsov told a news conference Thursday that the people, including children, died of “lack of medicine, lack of food” at the Al-Hol and Roj camps, which are overseen by Kurdish-led forces allied with the United States who spearheaded the fight against Daesh.
He said the deaths in the camps created “feelings of anger.”
Vorontsov did not clarify when the 700 reportedly died or what the source of the information was. The Kurdish Red Crescent said in January that 511 people died in the largest camp, Al-Hol, in 2019. The overcrowded camps have a high child mortality rate. So far, there has been no known outbreak of coronavirus in the camps. A UN team visited the largest one earlier this month.
Vorontsov urged the international community to tackle “the huge problem” of what to do with these people, saying keeping them in camps “is very dangerous.” He warned that “they could create very explosive materials that could be very helpful for terrorists to restart their activities” in Syria and Iraq.
Daesh, which once controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria, lost its last Syrian strongholds in early 2019. But despite the loss of its self-styled caliphate, UN experts said earlier this year that the extremist group is mounting increasingly bold attacks in Syria and Iraq and is planning for the breakout of its fighters in detention facilities.
In addition to the Al-Hol and Roj camps, the Kurdish fighters are guarding thousands of Daesh fighters and boys in prisons.
After Daesh militants lost control of the oil-rich northeast, Turkey invaded areas along its borders last October and now controls slivers of land in the very complex region. There are tensions between the Turkish-allied fighters and Kurdish groups, which Ankara considers terrorists. In addition, hundreds of US troops remain in northeast Syria.
The International Crisis Group reported on April 7 that there are 66,000 women and children in Al-Hol and 4,000 in Roj, most of them relatives of Daesh extremists, “but some former affiliates of the group themselves.” The Brussels-based think tank said that the majority are either Syrians or Iraqis, with the numbers roughly split, and around 13,500 are from other countries.
The group said humanitarian workers described the detention sites “as ridden with tuberculosis and perilously overcrowded, with one speaking of `dramatic mortality rates’.”
Vorontsov said “no country would like to have these people back, with this very negative and very dangerous terrorist background.”
But he said there are about 9,000 children and the first priority should be to save those under 6 years old, “because in this period of time children are absolutely not in the position to be indoctrinated.”
Vorontsov said the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, which he heads, is pushing the issue very strongly with countries whose citizens are detained. Only a small number are repatriating their citizens, including Central Asian countries, the United States and Russia, he said.
Women are “a more difficult story,” Vorontsov said.
There are “victims of terrorism” who didn’t understand what they were doing when they accompanied the men in their families to Syria and Iraq, he said, “but there are a lot of radicalized women among detained people in camps.”
Vorontsov said he believes the way forward is to prosecute the women and then rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society, but he conceded that it’s “a very challenging issue.”


Baby George, born amid Beirut blast, is "light in the darkness"

Updated 2 min 33 sec ago

Baby George, born amid Beirut blast, is "light in the darkness"

BEIRUT: Stepping into the delivery room where his wife Emmanuelle was about to give birth, Edmond Khnaisser meant to capture their son's first moments on camera.
Instead, he recorded the instant the biggest blast in Lebanon's history sent whole windows crashing onto his 28 year-old wife's hospital bed.
"I saw death with my own eyes...I started feeling 'is it over?' I was looking around and at the ceiling, just waiting for it to fall on us," Emmanuelle said, recollecting the direct aftermath of the massive blast that injured 6000 and killed more than 170 people in Beirut on Aug. 4.
Brushing off blood and shattered glass, medical staff instinctively carried Emmanuelle into the corridor, fearing another explosion could follow.
About to faint and shaken to the core, Emmanuelle said she knew she had to focus on giving birth.
"He has to come to life and I have to be very strong," she told herself.
Right after the blast, Stephanie Yacoub, chief resident of obstetrics and gynecology at St. George Hospital University Medical Center, had run out the room to help an injured nurse.
But it was too late and the nurse died. Yacoub hurried back to Emmanuelle straight away to help her give birth, along with Professor Elie Anastasiades and a team of medics.
"There was no electricity and the sun was starting to set, so we knew we had to get this done as soon as possible. And with the use of people's phone lights, he came into the world," she told Reuters a week after the blast.
Seventeen people died in St. George hospital right after the blast and dozens were injured, including Edmond Khnaisser’s mother, who suffered six broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Running back and forth between his wife and his mother, Khnaisser said he had one objective in mind, to get his new son George to safety.
As they got into strangers’ cars and out of the blast’s perimeter, the extent of the destruction started to sink in.
They eventually made it to a hospital right outside of the capital where George was finally bathed and cleaned.
"George is very special. He is the light in the darkness, a birth in wreckage," Edmond said, showing pictures of his son on the Instagram page he created for the boy they now call "miracle" baby George.