What next for children of Daesh detainees confined in Syrian camps?

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Hundreds of offspring of foreign recruits are trapped in overcrowded camps following the collapse of the Daesh caliphate. (Supplied)
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Syrian women and children, suspected of being related to the Daesh caliphate fighters, gather at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp in northeast Syria before being released to return to their homes on Dec. 21, 2020. (Photo by Delil Souleiman / AFP)
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Syrian women and children, suspected of being related to the Daesh caliphate fighters, gather at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp in northeast Syria before being released to return to their homes on Dec. 21, 2020. (Photo by Delil Souleiman / AFP)
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A Syrian mother and and child, suspected of being related to the Daesh caliphate fighters, gather at the Kurdish-run al-Hawl camp in northeast Syria before being released to return to their homes on Dec. 21, 2020. (Photo by Delil Souleiman / AFP)
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A member of Kurdish security forces watches as Daesh families load their belongings onto trucks before leaving the Kurdish-run al-Hawl camp in northeastern Syria on November 16, 2020. (Photo by Delil Souleiman / AFP)
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Syrians wait to leave the Kurdish-run al-Hawl camp holding relatives of suspected Daesh fighters in northeastern Syria on Nov. 24, 2020. (Photo by Delil Souleiman / AFP)
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Syrians wait to leave the Kurdish-run al-Hawl camp holding relatives of suspected Daesh fighters in northeastern Syria on Nov. 24, 2020. (Photo by Delil Souleiman / AFP)
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Families of Daesh caliphate fighters get ready to be transported home from the Kurdish-run al-Hawl camp in northeastern Syria on January 19, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2021

What next for children of Daesh detainees confined in Syrian camps?

  • Acute malnutrition, dehydration and diarrhea common among the innocent victims of war held in Al-Hawl and Al-Roj
  • Experts say the best way to shield the inmates from the influence of Daesh ideology is via rehabilitation and deradicalization

LONDON: Al-Hawl and Al-Roj, two squalid, horribly 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.”

While the vast majority of the camp residents are from Iraq and Syria, about 13,500 of the children held in the camps hail from 70 different countries, including the US, Canada, Russia, Britain, France, Turkey and South Asia. Around two-thirds of the foreign children are aged under 12 — most of them under five.

According to Save the Children, some 30 percent of the under-fives screened at the camps since in early February were suffering from acute malnutrition. The World Food Program (WFP) says it has recorded several cases of dehydration and diarrhea. And conditions are deteriorating. More than 500 people died in the camps in 2019, including 371 children.

Overcrowding is one of the key health concerns, particularly given the threat of communicable diseases like COVID-19. Al-Hawl was originally established to host just 10,000 people. Today it contains 64,000.

“They suffer stigmatization, unclear status, lack of clear pathways around reintegration — their basic human rights,” said Orlaith Minogue, who participated in the same webinar in her capacity as senior conflict and humanitarian advocacy adviser to Save the Children UK.

“Throughout the camps, critical gaps exist in all sectors: water, sanitation, hygiene, health, nutrition, education and protection. Our colleagues have reported seeing children who are bowlegged, which can be the result of Vitamin D deficiency. Children’s teeth are rotting. It’s those broader medical issues that over a period of time can become quite debilitating for children.”

 

Tens of thousands of women and children poured out of Baghouz in Syria’s eastern Deir ez-Zor province when the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated this final sliver of territory from Daesh in March 2019, backed by the US, UK and other members of the international coalition.

Truckloads of hungry and bewildered survivors were moved from the front lines into poorly equipped camps, where they have remained under SDF guard ever since — their status unclear and their future undetermined.

Aid agencies and overstretched Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on foreign governments to repatriate their nationals, warning further delay will cause greater suffering and loss of life and might allow radicalized inmates to escape and launch a new insurgency.

Read the full Arab News Research & Studies report here

However, foreign governments have been reluctant to take back their nationals, fearing the move would prove politically unpopular at home and pose a security threat should courts lack sufficient evidence to prosecute suspected militants.

“I have had discussions with various politicians on this topic. Their reluctance to repatriate individuals just comes down to a political calculation,” said Ibrahim. “Because if any of these individuals come back and even one of them is involved in some sort of terrorist activity, some sort of attack, a knife attack on the streets of London or Manchester or elsewhere, the first question that will be asked is, Why did you allow these people to come back?”




Syrians wait to leave the Kurdish-run al-Hawl camp holding relatives of suspected Daesh fighters in northeastern Syria on Nov. 24, 2020. (Photo by Delil Souleiman / AFP)

Several French nationals have been handed over to Iraq’s criminal justice system rather than face domestic courts, but human rights groups want to see far greater international oversight to prevent abuses.

Some governments have brought home women and children on a case-by-case basis — each time grappling with the moral implications of separating children from their mothers.

“We don’t believe the repatriation policy should be limited solely to unaccompanied or orphaned children or to a cumbersome case-by-case approach that has been taken on by a number of states,” said Minogue. “It has been demonstrated repatriation is feasible. We think all of these children, including those with their mothers, are innocent victims of this conflict and should be repatriated to their home countries with urgency.

 

 

“Any decisions about what happens between mother and child, should happen back in their country of origin, in capitals where there are the services and where there are the professionals who are able to make those determinations.”

When Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi announced his self-styled caliphate on June 29, 2014, thousands of men and women from across the world heeded his call to build an “Islamic State” straddling the group’s newly conquered territories in Iraq and Syria.

Young men traveled thousands of miles to fight in the group’s ranks, while women and teenage girls, some with children in tow, came in search of the lifestyle promised to them by the group’s slick online propagandists. Instead, many found a world of barbarity and genocide, wrapped up in a warped interpretation of Islam.

Read the full Arab News Research & Studies report here

After the “caliphate” fell, the children born to these foreign recruits found themselves trapped in a kind of legal limbo — effectively citizens of nowhere.

Since the group’s territorial defeat in early 2019, there has been mounting concern about a potential resurgence among youngsters hardened by life in the camps.

The recent spate of murders in Al-Hawl shows “how unsustainable the situation is when you have many thousands of children essentially living out their childhoods in this dangerous, volatile situation,” said Minogue.




Syrians wait to leave the Kurdish-run al-Hawl camp holding relatives of suspected Daesh fighters in northeastern Syria on Nov. 24, 2020. (AFP)

“It’s never in the interests of a five-year-old child to languish in a camp with no services, among armed groups in a conflict zone. The idea that they know nothing else is very sad.”

Experts agree that the only way to defuse the potential threat in the long run is through rehabilitation and deradicalization, including psychological, psychiatric and spiritual support, to reintegrate these children into mainstream society.

Ibrahim wants to see young people removed from the camp environment immediately and moved to juvenile rehabilitation centers, where they can begin pro-socialization initiatives, with expertise from foreign governments and aid agencies.

However, the political will needed to resolve the issue has long been lacking, leaving the camps woefully underequipped, aid agencies underfunded and the chances of salvaging these childhoods even slimmer.

Read the full Arab News Research & Studies report here

_______

Twitter: @RobertPEdwards

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UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

Updated 14 min 16 sec ago

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

  • UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at Al-Hol camp
  • Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria

BEIRUT: The UN children’s agency called Sunday for all minors held in displacement camps or jails in northeast Syria to be allowed home.
UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol, for people displaced in the fight against Daesh.
After years of leading the US-backed fight against Daesh, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria.
They hail from Syria, neighboring Iraq and dozens of other foreign countries.
Many are children.
“In the northeast of Syria, there are more than 22,000 foreign children from at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children,” UNICEF regional director Ted Chaiban said in a statement, without giving a number of children held in jails.
He urged authorities in the northeast of Syria and UN member states to “do everything possible to bring children currently in the northeast of Syria back home.”
They should do this “through integrating Syrian children in their local communities and the repatriation of foreign children,” he added.
The Kurdish authorities have started sending thousands of displaced Syrians home from the camps.
But repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and even fewer women being brought home.
Three children and a woman died on Saturday after a stove exploded in the Al-Hol camp, starting a fire, a Kurdish official said.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at least 26 were injured.
Al-Hol is home to more than 62,000 people, displaced family members and relatives of alleged IS fighters, more than half of them children, it says.
A spate of killings, including decapitations, has rocked the camp since the start of the year, and humanitarian actors have repeatedly deplored living conditions there.
On February 1, the Save the Children charity also urged Iraq and Western countries to repatriate children from northeast Syria faster.
Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed air strikes by a US-led coalition expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in Syria in March 2019, in a battle that displaced tens of thousands.


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Updated 28 February 2021

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  • A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people
  • The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic

AMMAN: Two Jordanian ministers resigned on Sunday for violating coronavirus-containment regulations, days after one of them had vowed “zero tolerance” against COVID-19 rule breakers.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh asked Interior and Justice Ministers Samir Mubaidin and Bassam Talhouni to step down for violating the defense order put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A government source told Arab News that al-Khasawneh's directives, which were immediately endorsed by King Abdullah, came after the two ministers were at an event that brought together more than six people.

A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people, in violation of a defense order that allows a maximum of six.

Mubaidin chaired a meeting with senior security officers last Thursday where he had stressed the need to abide by defense orders, notably following the curfew, wearing masks and physical distancing. 

He vowed “zero tolerance” against violators, adding that these measures were aimed at protecting public health.

A royal decree was issued on Sunday accepting the resignation of Talhouni and Mubaidin. 

Another decree assigned the deputy prime minister and minister of local administration, Tawfiq Kreishan, to take on the Ministry of Interior, and for the minister of state for legal affairs, Ahmad Ziadat, to take on the Ministry of Justice, as of Sunday.

Jordan has toughened its health regulations, reinstating a curfew on Fridays and extending lockdown hours, with the country witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded around 387,000 COVID-19 infections and 4,675 deaths.

The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic.

“The sacking of the two ministers should have been in fact linked to the failure in handling matters related to citizens’ lives, including vaccines, the health situation and food security,” political analyst Amer Sabaileh told Arab News.


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“The crew was quickly evacuated to the airfield. There is no threat to lives of the pilots,” the RIA news agency cited a Defense Ministry statement as saying.
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Syrian state media said earlier there were reports of a Russian helicopter crash in northeast Syria that killed the pilot.
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“Yes, he tested positive, but it will have no impact on the visit,” an Iraqi official involved in the papal plans said.
An Italian diplomat also confirmed the infection.
As apostolic nuncio to Baghdad, Leskovar had been traveling across the country in recent weeks to prepare for the pope’s ambitious visit, including visits to Mosul in the north, the shrine city of Najaf and the southern site of Ur.
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Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.