Inclusion or banishment: Fate of Daesh families on the balance

Updated 13 March 2019

Inclusion or banishment: Fate of Daesh families on the balance

  • Aid groups say the politicization of humanitarian issues is the result of growing nationalism in the west
  • At least 60,000 relatives of Daesh militants – many of them women and children – fled into Al-Roj and Al-Hawl camps to escape the intensified fighting

At least 60,000 relatives of militants — many of them women and children — fled to Al-Roj and Al-Hol camps to escape Baghouz, adding to the 6.2 million already internally displaced people across the region, the 5.6 million who have left the country, and the 13.1 million in need of humanitarian aid.

Against this backdrop, Daesh members are not seen as a priority, and they face an uncertain future. It has become an international dilemma, as governments debate the “Daesh brides” who want to return to their home countries.

The UK has already revoked the citizenship of three women who joined the group. Reema Iqbal, 30, and her sister Zara, 28, left London for Syria in 2013, and between them now have five young children. Shamima Begum, 19, who lost her third baby last week, left the UK in 2015. Begum’s family has urged the British government to reconsider the decision as an “act of mercy.”

The family of Shamima Begum have asked for their daughter to be allowed back in the UK as an "act of mercy". (File/AFP) 

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has vowed to deny entry to Hoda Muthana who also left the United States to join Daesh in 2015.

Muthana’s father is suing the US government to have it recognize her as a citizen and to return her to the country.

France is also debating whether to allow two French women to return to the country after leaving to join the militant group.

The women are saying they hope to be judged fairly if put on trial as they feared for their children lives in Syria where many have died.

According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), at least 100 other children have died either en route to Al-Hol, or inside the camp itself.

President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Francesco Rocca, says he disagrees with the decision made by the western governments.

“Whatever a person has done, there are basic needs that must be met and this is something that is not negotiable. It is about human dignity, it is human rights,” Rocca told Arab News during the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) conference.

These actions not only affect the mothers but also their children which is considered a collective punishment, Rocca explained, adding that this was forbidden under international law.

“If there is someone who committed crimes, then they have to be prosecuted. It is up to the legal system to investigate and identify the individuals,” Rocca said.

Concerns continue to be raised over the children who had no choice in the situation. (File/AFP)

Spokesperson of the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM), Leonard Doyle, also says that it is up to the courts to decide and not the politicians.

“Politicians sometimes make expedient decisions in the heat of controversy, this happens all the time, and it’s not always right,” Doyle said.

IOM often works with radicalised people and helps to deradicalize them and integrate them back into their own communities, Doyle explained.

Meanwhile, the SDF has repeatedly called on the West to take citizens back, stressing it does not have the resources to detain them indefinitely.

Rocca believes that leaving people stateless is a political statement, in line with the rise of populism in the US and Europe.

“Certain political actors are using this as a weapon, creating fear. Unfortunately, too many countries are repelling immigrants by calling them ‘illegal,’ something that is dehumanizing.”

In the case of families of Daesh fighters, Doyle said: “We can’t force people back where conflict is continuing, or we risk sucking them into it.”

The executive director of Medecins Sans Frontieres, Mario Stephan, said humanitarian aid should only be based on need and nothing else. “It is very important that we remind everybody that migration is not a crime,” he stated.

Rocca said Syria would provide lessons for years to come. “I hope we will learn from this experience, but I am not optimistic. We see too many similar situations,” he said, adding “what is happening in Syria is also being repeated in Yemen.”

Syrian Kurds say will help implement US-Turkey ‘safe zone’

Updated 25 August 2019

Syrian Kurds say will help implement US-Turkey ‘safe zone’

  • Buffer area sought to ‘limit any uncoordinated military operations,’ coalition says

HASAKAH/SYRIA, BEIRUT: Syria’s Kurds would support the implementation of a US-Turkey deal to set up a buffer zone in their areas along the Turkish border, they said on Saturday.

The “safe zone” agreed by Ankara and Washington earlier this month aims to create a buffer between the Turkish border and Syrian areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG have played a key role in the US-backed battle against Daesh in Syria, but Ankara views them as “terrorists.”

On Saturday, Mazloum Kobani, the head of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said his alliance would back the deal.

“We will strive to ensure the success of (US) efforts toward implementing the understanding ... with the Turkish state,” he said.

“The SDF will be a positive party toward the success of this operation,” he told journalists in the northeastern town of Hasakah.

US Central Command said late on Friday that the SDF — which expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in eastern Syria in March — had destroyed outposts in the border area.

“The SDF destroyed military fortifications” on Thursday, it said in a statement on Twitter.

“This demonstrates (the) SDF’s commitment to support implementation of the security mechanism framework.”

On Wednesday, the US and Turkish defense ministers “confirmed their intent to take immediate, coordinated steps to implement the framework,” said a statement by the US Department of Defense.

Also on Saturday, a representative of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh said the buffer area sought to “limit any uncoordinated military operations.”

“We believe that this dialogue is the only way to secure the border area in a sustainable manner,” Brig. Gen. Nicholas Pond said.

On Aug. 7, Turkish and US officials agreed to establish a joint operations center to oversee the creation of the “safe zone.”

Little is known about its size or how it will work, but Ankara has said there would be observation posts and joint patrols.

Damascus has rejected the agreement as serving “Turkey’s expansionist ambitions.”

Syrian Kurds have established an autonomous region in northeast Syria amid the country’s eight-year war. But as the fight against Daesh winds down, the prospect of a US military withdrawal had stoked Kurdish fears of a long-threatened Turkish attack.

Turkey has already carried out two offensives into Syria in 2016 and 2018, the second of which saw it and allied Syrian rebels overrun the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest.

Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in the Syrian city of Idlib on Saturday, a war monitor said, as regime airstrikes hit its outskirts in a government offensive on the last major opposition bastion.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and opposition-run Orient News said a car blew up in the Al-Qusoor neighborhood. 

The Observatory said the blast killed two and wounded at least 11.

The city and the surrounding Idlib province in northwest Syria form part of the last big rebel stronghold in Syria.

A new push by Syrian government and Russian forces to take the area has seen heavy strikes and advances this week in the south of Idlib province and nearby Hama, prompting a new civilian exodus. Hundreds of people have been killed in the campaign since late April, the United Nations says.

On Friday Russia-backed Syrian troops reclaimed a cluster of towns they had lost early in the eight-year-old war, driving out the last rebel fighters from the Hama countryside.

Idlib city itself has largely been spared air strikes since a major bombing campaign on the territory began in late April, but on Saturday its outskirts were hit from the air, the Observatory and opposition media said.

Heavy strikes continued to hit the south of Idlib province, including around Maarat al-Numan, a city that has been a sanctuary for families fleeing former rebel areas around the country. This week tens of thousands fled to Syria’s border with Turkey as the fighting advanced.