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

Hundreds of offspring of foreign recruits are trapped in overcrowded camps following the collapse of the Daesh caliphate. (Supplied)
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Hundreds of offspring of foreign recruits are trapped in overcrowded camps following the collapse of the Daesh caliphate. (Supplied)
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)
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)
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 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)
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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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)
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)
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)
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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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?

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


At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
Updated 21 January 2022

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
  • He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned

TUNIS: At least 11 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, while 21 others were rescued by the coast guard, the army spokesman said on Friday.
He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned.


Daesh attacks Syria jail, military base in Iraq in deadly escalation

Daesh attacks Syria jail, military base in Iraq in deadly escalation
Updated 21 January 2022

Daesh attacks Syria jail, military base in Iraq in deadly escalation

Daesh attacks Syria jail, military base in Iraq in deadly escalation
  • The brazen Daesh operation sewed chaos in Hasakah, forcing people to flee the area around Ghwayran prison
  • The attack marked the jihadists’ deadliest operation in Iraq this year

HASAKEH, Syria: Daesh group on Friday attacked a Syria prison housing fellow jihadists and a military base in Iraq in near simultaneous deadly operations that revived fears of a Daesh resurgence.
The jihadist group has yet to comment on the attacks and there is no indication that they are coordinated but, according to analysts, they strongly suggest Daesh is trying to boost its ranks and arsenal in an attempt to reorganize across both countries.
In Syria, an ongoing Daesh attack on a northeast Syria detention facility holding the largest number of Daesh suspects killed at least 20 Kurdish security forces and set several Daesh fighters free, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The prison break that began late Thursday was one of the group’s most significant attacks since its “caliphate” was declared defeated in the war-torn country nearly three years ago.
As Daesh operatives launched their bid to free some of the estimated 3,500 fellow fighters jailed at Ghwayran prison in the Syrian city of Hasakah, the jihadists killed 11 soldiers in an attack on an army base in the east of neighboring Iraq.
The attack marked the jihadists’ deadliest operation in Iraq this year.
While the Iraq operation quickly came under wraps, Kurdish forces in Syria continued to battle jihadists in Hasakah, hours after the prison attack began with a Daesh car bomb late Thursday, the Observatory said.
“The number of those killed among Kurdish internal security forces and prison guards stands at 20,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The war monitor, providing figures that were not immediately confirmed by the authorities of the autonomous Kurdish region, also said at least 16 jihadists were killed in the ongoing fighting.
The brazen Daesh operation sewed chaos in Hasakah, forcing people to flee the area around Ghwayran prison.
Daesh fighters hunkered down in homes around the facility, sometimes using residents as human shields, as Kurdish forces fought to retake full control of the neighborhood and hunt down prisoners on the loose.
Daesh has carried out regular attacks against Kurdish and regime targets in Syria since the last rump of its once-sprawling proto-state was defeated on the banks of the Euphrates in March 2019.
Most of their guerrilla attacks have been against military targets and oil installations in remote areas but the Hasakah prison break could mark a new phase in the group’s resurgence.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurds’ de-facto army in northeast Syria, said it had recaptured 89 Daesh detainees in its sweep of the area.
“Clashes continue in the vicinity of the prison,” the SDF said in a statement.
The US-led international coalition formed to battle Daesh acknowledged the attack and added that the SDF had suffered casualties but did not say how many.
Daesh “remains an existential threat in Syria and cannot be allowed to regenerate,” the coalition said.
The Kurdish authorities have long warned they did not have the capacity to hold, let alone put on trial, the thousands of Daesh fighters captured in years of operations.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons where more than 12,000 Daesh suspects are now held.
From France to Tunisia, many of the Daesh prisoners’ countries of origins have been reluctant to repatriate them, fearing a public backlash at home.
A UN report last year estimated that around 10,000 Daesh fighters remained active across Iraq and Syria, many of them in Kurdish-controlled areas.
Prison breaks have been a recurring part of jihadist groups’ strategy in both Iraq and Syria for over a decade.
Before becoming the world’s most wanted man, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of what was later to become known as the “Islamic State,” had launched a campaign in 2012 focused on releasing prisoners.
His proclamation of Daesh’s so-called caliphate in 2014 across swathes of Iraq and Syria came a wave of operations in Iraq during which several hundred fighters were freed, including from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
“Jailbreaks and prison riots were a central component of Daesh’s resurgence in Iraq and is a serious threat in Syria today,” said Dareen Khalifa, senior Syria analyst at International Crisis Group.
She pointed out that many of the prisons in the Kurdish-run areas of Syria where much of the Daesh caliphate’s former “army” is being held were converted schools ill-suited to holding high-risk detainees for long periods.
Since Kurdish forces backed by the US-led coalition flushed out the last die-hard jihadists holding out in the village of Baghuz in 2019, Daesh has been patiently rebuilding.
The confusion and corruption that are rife in the vast desert expanses on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border have allowed Daesh remnants to lie low and plot their next moves.
 


Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis
Updated 21 January 2022

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

LONDON: The UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against the acts of the Houthi militia, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President Anwar Gargash said on Friday.

The UAE has the legal and moral right to defend its lands and residents, he said in a statement published by Al Arabiya. 

The Houthi militia rejected all calls for a ceasefire, and their attack on the UAE Rwabee ship prove their rejection of a political solution, the adviser said. 

The Houthis have turned the port of Hodeidah into a port for maritime piracy, he claimed, and are using it to finance the war.

The UAE will do everything necessary to prevent the danger of terrorist acts on its soil, he said.

Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE. This lead to international condemnation. 

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization after the attack.


Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
Updated 21 January 2022

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
  • The brazen attack was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months

BAGHDAD: Daesh gunmen attacked an army barracks in a mountainous area north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 11 soldiers as they slept, Iraqi security officials said.
The officials said the attack occurred in the Al-Azim district, an open area north of of Baqouba in Diyala province. The circumstances of the attack were not immediately clear, but two officials who spoke to The Associated Press said Daesh group militants broke into the barracks at 3 a.m. local time and shot dead the soldiers.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to issue official statements.
The brazen attack more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the capital Baghdad was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months.


Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic
Updated 21 January 2022

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

JERUSALEM: Retired general Yair Golan spent a significant part of his military career serving in the occupied West Bank, protecting Jewish settlements. Today, he is one of their most vocal critics.
Golan, a former deputy military chief, is now a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, where he has repeatedly spoken out against settler violence against Palestinians.
His comments, highlighted by his recent description of violent settlers as “subhuman,” have rattled Israel’s delicate governing coalition, and his opponents have labeled him a radical. He joins a cadre of former security personnel who, after not speaking up while in uniform and positions of influence, have in retirement sounded the alarm over Israel’s five-decade-long military rule of the Palestinians.
“You can’t have a free and democratic state so long as we are controlling people who don’t want to be controlled by us,” Golan told The Associated Press in an interview at his office in the Knesset this week. “What kind of democracy are we building here long term?”
Golan has emerged as a rare critical voice in a society where the occupation is largely an accepted fact and where settlers have successfully pushed their narrative through their proximity to the levers of power. Most members of Israel’s parliament belong to the pro-settlement right wing.
Golan, 59, had a long military career, being wounded in action in Lebanon and filling key positions as head of the country’s northern command and as commander of the West Bank, among others.
Along the way, he gained a reputation as a maverick for decisions that sometimes landed him in hot water. At one point, he reached an unauthorized deal to remove some settlers from the West Bank city of Hebron. He was reprimanded and a promotion was delayed after he permitted the use of Palestinian non-combatants as human shields during arrest raids, a tactic the country’s Supreme Court banned.
At the same time, he was credited with permitting thousands of Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war to enter Israel for medical treatment.
As the deputy military chief, he was passed over for the top job after comparing what he saw as fascistic trends in modern-day Israel to Nazi Germany. He believes the speech cost him the position.
A few years after retirement, he was elected to parliament and eventually joined Meretz, a party that supports Palestinian statehood and is part of the current coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Meretz has been one of the few parties to make ending Israel’s occupation a top priority. But since joining the coalition, which has agreed to focus on less divisive issues to maintain its stability, most of its members have appeared to tone down their criticism.
Golan has not. Earlier this month, he caused a firestorm when he lashed out against settlers who vandalized graves in the Palestinian West Bank village of Burqa.
“These are not people, these are subhumans,” Golan told the Knesset Channel. “They must not be given any backing.”
His remarks angered Bennett, a former settler leader, and sparked criticism from others within the coalition.
Golan acknowledged his choice of words was flawed but said he stands by the spirit of his remarks.
“Is the problem the expression that I used or is the problem those same people who go up to Burqa, smash graves, damage property and assault innocent Palestinians?” he said.
Such statements have turned him into a poster boy for what far-right nationalists describe as dangerous forces in the coalition challenging Israel’s role in the West Bank. The Palestinians seek the area, captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future state.
Some on Israel’s dovish left also have been hesitant to embrace Golan, who continues to defend the army’s actions in the West Bank.
Golan always saw his duty in the territory as primarily combatting Palestinian militants, and he continues to believe that most settlers are law-abiding citizens. The international community overwhelmingly considers all settlements illegal or illegitimate, and the Palestinians and many left-wing Israelis see the military as an enforcer of an unjust occupation.
Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group for former Israeli soldiers who oppose policies in the West Bank, called for action, not just words, against settler violence.
“Yair Golan knows full well what settler violence looks like and what our violent control over the Palestinian people looks like. That’s why his criticism is valuable, but it’s not enough,” the group said in a statement.
Golan said he always saw Israeli control over Palestinian territories as temporary. He said separating from the Palestinians is the only way to keep Israel a democratic state with a Jewish majority.
In 2006, Golan commanded the violent evacuation of the Amona settlement in the West Bank, which was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“I can’t come to terms with the idea that someone Jewish who holds Jewish values supports the theft of someone else’s lands,” he said.
In recent months, as violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank has ticked up, videos have emerged of soldiers standing by as settlers rampage. Golan said he never would have allowed such a thing under his command.
“These people don’t accept the essence of Israel and abide by the law only when it’s convenient for them,” he said.
His comments about settlers aren’t the first to rankle the establishment. In a 2016 speech marking Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, Golan, then deputy military chief, said he was witnessing “nauseating processes” in Israeli society that reminded him of the fascism of Nazi-era Germany.
He said the remarks were sparked by the fatal shooting of a subdued Palestinian attacker by a soldier. The soldier was embraced by nationalist politicians, including then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Golan said the shooting was nothing short of an execution.
Next to his desk, Golan keeps a photo of Netanyahu arriving for his corruption trial at a Jerusalem courthouse, surrounded by his Likud Party supporters as he rants against police and prosecutors.
Golan said the image is a reminder of what he is fighting against — and for.
“I served the country in uniform for so many years, I really gave it my life,” Golan said. Pointing to the photo, he said: “I didn’t endanger my life countless times for these people.”