In Syria camp, forgotten children left to be molded by Daesh

In Syria camp, forgotten children left to be molded by Daesh
It has been more than two years that some 27,000 children have been left to languish in Al-Hol camp, which houses families of Daesh members. (AP/Baderkhan Ahmad)
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Updated 03 June 2021

In Syria camp, forgotten children left to be molded by Daesh

In Syria camp, forgotten children left to be molded by Daesh
  • For more than two years, some 27,000 children have been left to languish in Al-Hol camp in northeast Syria
  • Few of the children can read or write, for some their education comes in the form of Daesh propaganda read to them by their mothers

AL-HOL, Syria: At the sprawling Al-Hol camp, children pass their days roaming the dirt roads, playing with mock swords and black banners in imitation of Daesh group militants. Few can read or write. For some, the only education is from mothers giving them Daesh propaganda.
It has been more than two years since the Daesh group’s self-declared “caliphate” was brought down. And for more than two years, some 27,000 children have been left to languish in Al-Hol camp in northeast Syria where families of Daesh members have been housed.
They are spending their childhood in a limbo of miserable conditions with no schools, no place to play or develop and seemingly no international interest in resolving their situation.
Only one institution is left to mold them: sympathizers and remnants of the Daesh group who operate within the camp, even as it is run by the Kurdish-led forces that defeated the militants.
Kurdish authorities and aid groups fear the camp will create a new generation of militants. They are pleading with home countries to take the women and children back. The problem is that home governments often see the children as posing a danger rather than as needing rescue.
“These children are Daesh’s first victims,” said Save the Children’s Syria Response Director Sonia Khush. “A 4-year-old boy does not really have an ideology. He has protection and learning needs.”
“The camps are no place for children to live or grow up,” she said. “It does not allow them to learn, socialize or be children ... It does not allow them to heal from all that they have lived through.”
In the fenced-off camp, multiple families are often crammed together in tents; medical facilities are minimal, access to clean water and sanitation limited.
Some 50,000 Syrians and Iraqis are there. Nearly 20,000 of them are children. Most of the rest are women, the wives and widows of fighters.
In a separate, heavily guarded section of the camp known as the annex are another 2,000 women from 57 other countries, considered the most die-hard Daesh supporters, along with their children, numbering 8,000.
The Daesh influence was clear during a rare visit by The Associated Press to the camp last month. Around a dozen young boys in the annex hurled stones at the team, which was accompanied by Kurdish guards. A few waved sharp pieces of metal like swords.
“We will kill you because you are an infidel,” screamed one child who looked around 10. “We are the Islamic State.”
Another child slid his hand across his neck and said, “With the knife, God willing.”
At a market inside the annex, one woman looked at a reporter and said, “The Islamic State endures” — a slogan of the group.
During its nearly 5-year rule over much of Syria and Iraq, Daesh aimed to entrench its “caliphate” by indoctrinating children in its brutal interpretation of Islamic law. It trained children as fighters, taught them how to carry out beheadings using dolls, and even had them carry out killings of captives in propaganda videos.
A Russian-speaking woman in the annex, who identified herself as Madina Bakaraw, said she feared for the future of the children, including her own son and daughter.
“We want our children to learn. Our children should be able to read, to write, to count,” said the 42-year-old. “We want to go home and want our children to have a childhood.”
The women in the camp are a mix. Some remain devoted to Daesh, but others became disillusioned by its brutal rule or by its defeat. Others were never ideologically committed but were brought into the “caliphate” by husbands or family.
The camp began to be used to house the families of Daesh fighters in late 2018 as US-backed Kurdish-led forces recaptured territory in eastern Syria from the militants. In March 2019, they seized the last Daesh-held villages, ending the “caliphate” that the group declared over large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Since then, Kurdish administrators have struggled to repatriate camp residents in the face of local opposition to their return. Earlier this year, hundreds of Syrian families left the camp after a deal was reached with their tribes to accept them. Last month, 100 Iraqi families were repatriated but still face sharp opposition among their neighbors.
Some former Soviet Union states have let back some of their citizens, but other Arab, European and African countries have repatriated only minimal numbers or have refused.
“Those children are there through no fault of their own, and they should not pay the consequences of their parents’ choices,” Ted Chaiban, Mideast and North Africa director of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, told the AP. Chaiban visited Al-Hol in December.
If home countries won’t repatriate, at least they should help set up facilities to improve children’s lives, said Shixmus Ehmed, head of the Kurdish-led administration’s department for refugees and displaced.
“We have suggested schools be opened, as well as rehabilitation programs and fields to do sports,” Ehmed said. “But so far, there is nothing.”
In the camp’s main section, UNICEF and Kurdish authorities set up 25 learning centers, but they have been closed since March 2020 because of COVID-19. In the annex, authorities have been unable to set up learning centers. Instead, children are largely taught by their mothers, mostly with Daesh ideology, according to UN and Kurdish officials.
In late March, the Kurdish-led forces assisted by US forces swept through the camp, seizing 125 suspected Daesh operatives, including Iraqis and Syrians.
Those sleeper cells had been killing residents suspected of abandoning the group’s ideology, working as informants or defying its rules. At least 47 people were killed this year, according to Kurdish-led forces, while US officials put the number at 60.
Amal Mohammed, a 40-year-old Iraqi in the camp, said her wish is to return to Iraq where her daughters can live a normal life.
“What is the future of these children?” she said. “They will have no future ... Here they are learning nothing.”


Arab coalition destroys ballistic missile launch pad in Yemen’s capital

Arab coalition destroys ballistic missile launch pad in Yemen’s capital
Updated 7 sec ago

Arab coalition destroys ballistic missile launch pad in Yemen’s capital

Arab coalition destroys ballistic missile launch pad in Yemen’s capital

RIYADH: The Arab coalition destroyed a ballistic missile launch pad and a warehouse used to build drones in Yemen’s capital, Al Ekhbariya reported on Saturday.
The coalition has carried out multiple sorties in the past few weeks to hamper Houthi militia operations in and around Sanaa.
The launch pad destruction in southern Sanaa also killed experts, the coalition said, adding that a mine-making and drone-assembly workshop was also destroyed.
The coalition said they took the necessary precautions to safeguard civilian life during the operations.
The near daily attacks by the militia on Saudi civilian infrastructure using drones has reduced considerably as the coalition has gone after specific targets behind the persistent attacks.
Experts belonging to Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have been killed by the coalition airstrikes in recent weeks.
The Yemeni government is engaged in a fierce resistance in the governorate of Marib, a resource-rich region coveted by the Iran-backed group.
On Thursday, the coalition said it carried out nine operations against militia targets in Marib in the past 24 hours, killing 45 fighters and destroying six military vehicles.
Government forces also liberated a large swathe of land in the southern governorate of Shabwa on Thursday.
Backed by air cover from the Arab coalition, government troops pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled Bayhan and Ousylan districts, expelling militia fighters from wide areas and taking control of a strategic road that connects the two districts, a military official told Arab News on Thursday.
The Arab coalition has been fighting the Iran-backed Houthis, after the militia seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014.
In March, Saudi Arabia announced a roadmap called the Riyadh Initiative to halt fighting in Yemen and reopen Sanaa airport, as well as continuing talks to find a solution to the conflict. The proposal was seen as a welcome step internationally, but has been rejected by Houthi leadership.
The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.
Saudi relief agency, KSrelief, has poured billions of dollars worth of aid into Yemen and has hundreds of projects focusing on food and health.
In July, The World Food Programme welcomed Saudi contributions to the fund saying humanitarian action in Yemen could not be sustained without it.


Kurdish protesters storm the chemical weapons body in The Hague

Kurdish protesters storm the chemical weapons body in The Hague
Updated 04 December 2021

Kurdish protesters storm the chemical weapons body in The Hague

Kurdish protesters storm the chemical weapons body in The Hague

THE HAGUE: Dutch police arrested 50 people on Friday after Kurdish demonstrators alleging that Turkey is using chemical weapons in northern Iraq broke into the headquarters of the global toxic arms watchdog.
Protesters got past security to enter the grounds of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and staged a noisy rally outside the building’s front doors, AFP journalists saw.
Police dragged the demonstrators off one by one, put them on the ground and handcuffed them, before bundling them into waiting vans.
At least a dozen police vehicles sealed off the road outside the OPCW, which is opposite Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s official residence.
Several ambulances and a medical helicopter were also at the scene.
“At around noon, a large group of protesters stormed a building ... We have arrested these protesters. Several police units are present at the building,” police said on Twitter.
“The approximately 50 arrested demonstrators who were on the site have been transferred to a police location.”
Turkey denies using chemical weapons in its conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.


Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy
Updated 03 December 2021

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy
  • Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush spoke via video call at the Mediterranean dialogues in a session titled “Dealing with Migration"
  • EU sends funds to the detention centers indirectly through aid agencies

CAIRO: Libya’s foreign minister on Friday criticized a system of deterring migrants from reaching European shores that she argued fails to address the root of the problem and has so far only served the interest of EU states.
Her comments are the latest stab at EU policies that fund forces such as the Libyan coast guard, which intercepts migrant boats and brings them back onshore and detains them.
Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush spoke via video call at the Mediterranean dialogues, a conference hosted by the Italian government, in a session titled “Dealing with Migration.”
“Please do not push the problem in our lap and please do not point your fingers at Libya and portray us as a country which abuses and disrespects refugees,” she said. “We are tired of beating around the bush, and all these superficial solutions being offered, it’s time to state the problem and face it, instead of ... keep repeating it again and again.”
The European Union, which has come under fire for its support of Libya’s domestic efforts to stem migrant crossings in the past, has supported the country’s coast guard, which regularly intercepts vessels carrying migrants. Many migrants are then placed in brutal detention facilities, held indefinitely in appalling conditions, or held for ransom in exchange for payoffs, according to migrants who have made it out.
The European Union sends funds to the detention centers indirectly through aid agencies.
In her speech, Mangoush did not directly address the abuse accusations.
Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe. Each year, thousands of migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia attempt the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe on overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats.
More than 1,300 men, women and children have died so far in 2021 trying to cross the Central Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, according to the UN migration agency.
The EU has sent 455 million euros to Libya since 2015, largely channeled through UN agencies and aimed at beefing up Libya’s coast guard, reinforcing its southern border and improving conditions for migrants.
Libya has been at war and split for years between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. After years of UN-led talks, the country is set to hold national elections later this month.
Mangoush said that what Libya needs is better policing system at its southern borders to control the influx of migrants, to address the root of the issue. She said the solution of simply providing money to Libya would never be enough, calling past initiatives “just for the cause of serving the agenda of the EU and the perspective of the EU.”


Tunisia records first case of omicron variant

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant
Updated 03 December 2021

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant
  • 23-year-old man tested positive and all fellow travelers on his flight from Turkey were contacted by authorities

TUNIS: Tunisia recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a Congolese man who arrived from Istanbul, the health minister said Friday.
Ali Mrabet said the 23-year-old man tested positive and all fellow travelers on his flight from Turkey were contacted by Tunisian authorities to be tested as well.
The omicron variant was first announced by South Africa but has since been discovered to have been present earlier in Europe.
It has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, despite warnings from the World Health Organization this could do more harm than good.
On Friday, the WHO said it had not seen any reports of deaths related to the new omicron variant.
The WHO has said it will take several weeks to get a full picture of the transmissibility and severity of omicron, and to assess how vaccines, tests and treatments hold up against the new variant.


France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’
Updated 03 December 2021

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he hoped there would be progress on the Lebanon crisis in the next hours.
“We will do all we can to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon... I hope the coming hours will allow us to make progress.” Macron said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys. The UAE withdrew its envoys.