Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo

Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
1 / 8
Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
2 / 8
Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
3 / 8
Daesh militants show off in a motorcade in Sirte, Libya, in 2015. (AFP file photo)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
4 / 8
Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
5 / 8
Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
6 / 8
Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
7 / 8
Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Special Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
8 / 8
Children live and die in horrendous conditions in the Syrian camps, and it leaves them very vulnerable to radicalization in the face of the potential resurgence in Daesh militancy. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 11 June 2022

Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo

Children of Syria’s Al-Hol camp detainees languish in political limbo
  • Families of Daesh militants held in the facility witness violence that can cause lasting psychological harm
  • Conditions far below international standards in terms of access to food, water, healthcare and education

IRBIL, Iraq: Women and children held in Al-Hol, a sprawling camp of some 57,000 people in northeast Syria, endure squalid conditions and almost daily violence, meted out by its many hard-line inmates who still cling to the extremist ideology of Daesh.

Violence is endemic inside the camp, where there have been at least 130 murders since March 2019, according to Save the Children. In 2021 alone, an average of two people per week were killed, often with impunity and in plain sight of children.




Owing to the often extreme climate and the lack of facilities, respiratory tract infections and malnutrition are rife in camps for IDPs in Syria. (AFP)

The overwhelming majority of these attacks took place in Al-Hol’s main camp, which is home to Syrian and Iraqi nationals. Al-Hol annex, which has also seen its share of insecurity, houses women and children from at least 60 other countries.

“We provide services, but, at the end of the day, it is still a camp and is, therefore, inadequate as a housing project,” Dr. Alan Dahir, an official from the Kurdish Red Crescent, which manages the site, told Arab News.

“Most children are orphans. While I don’t think they have been forgotten, including the foreign women, their respective countries are yet to come forward and claim them.”

Imene Trabelsi, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provides basic assistance in Al-Hol, said that living conditions are far below international standards in terms of access to food, water, healthcare and education.

“There are children who have tragically spent their entire short lives in camps like Al-Hol, having been born and dying there without ever leaving the perimeter,” Trabelsi told Arab News.

“Tens of thousands of other children are spending their early years — so important for their development — in such conditions, in the full knowledge and view of the international community and their own states of origin.”

In February last year, a fire tore through part of the camp, leaving at least eight people dead and many seriously injured, including more than a dozen children. Owing to the often extreme climate and the lack of facilities, respiratory tract infections and malnutrition are rife.

“The children are endlessly exposed to dangers and their rights often ignored. The world cannot continue to look away while children draw their first and last breaths in camps or grow up stateless and in limbo,” said Trabelsi.

FASTFACTS

In February 2021, a fire tore through part of Al-Hol camp, leaving at least eight people dead and many seriously injured.

Western governments have been reluctant to take back their citizens, fearing the political blowback.

“This is one of the biggest and most complex child protection emergencies of our time and it is high time to find the political will to act before more lives are lost.”

Al-Hol has been housing people displaced by conflicts that have shaken the region down the years. But its population suddenly soared in March 2019 following the defeat of Daesh in the group’s last territorial holdout of Baghouz in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor.

Thousands of women and children, many of them the families of captured or killed militants, were trucked from Baghouz to Al-Hol in neighboring Hasakah, where most have since remained under guard by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

“I hadn’t eaten for what seemed like weeks at the time. We were left to literally eat grass,” said Ayman, a young Yazidi who was forced to fight in Daesh’s ranks in Baghouz after being abducted as a child.

“We had nothing. I do not know how I survived. I ended up at Al-Hol and was later rescued thanks to the local efforts of those looking for Yazidi survivors.”

When Daesh militants stormed into the Yazidi ancestral homelands of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq in the summer of 2014, thousands of women and children were abducted and forcibly converted to the group’s warped interpretation of Islam.

By the time the group was territorially defeated in early 2019, many of these former captives were too frightened to identify themselves as Yazidi or too indoctrinated to part ways with their former captors inside Al-Hol.

“I count myself lucky,” Ayman told Arab News. “Some of my friends and women I know refused to be rescued. They had been so brainwashed and traumatized they chose to remain in the camp under the radar. I do not know what has become of them now.”




Living conditions are far below international standards in terms of access to food, water, healthcare and education, according to ICRC officials. (AFP)

Aid agencies have long called on governments to support the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian and Iraqi families from Al-Hol to their communities, and for the repatriation of children of foreign fighters and their mothers back to their home countries.

“I’ve been pursuing this issue since 2018, and have managed to bring about 40 people back to their home countries. Most were children,” Peter Galbraith, a former US diplomat and longtime advocate of the Kurdish people, told Arab News.

Western governments have been reluctant to take back their citizens, fearing the political blowback, expense, and indeed the security risks should authorities fail to successfully prosecute suspected Islamist radicals.

“Part of the problem is that the UN and other NGOs are saying countries should take back their citizens, but the reality is no one is really doing that,” said Galbraith. “It doesn’t help to keep shouting about something and not working it out.

“For some countries like the UK, Canada and France, they find keeping their citizens in northeast Syria less complicated and less expensive. Bringing them home and putting them through a trial, sentencing, then sending them to jail would cost thousands of dollars, instead of keeping them in the camp for a couple hundred dollars.”

As a result, thousands of children who wound up in the camp through no fault of their own have been effectively abandoned by Western governments, left vulnerable to violence, sickness and radicalization.

“The children end up paying for the faults of their parents,” said Galbraith. “Every man and woman who decided to join Daesh had agency in one way or another. The kids brought or born here had no choice. They are now condemned to a life in prison.

“They are also at risk of child marriage and being brought up by the hard-line extremist women who run the camps. An American orphan we rescued was being raised by a Somali extremist woman when we found him.

“Children risk ending up in the hands of ruthless smugglers, human traffickers, who would do anything for a buck. Some Yazidi women, after all their ordeals with Daesh, ended up being trafficked into prostitution by these smugglers.

“Kids must be removed and put in villages or foster care.”




Children of internally displaced Syrians, here seen playing in the snow at a camp by the border with Turkey, suffer from exposure to extreme weather conditions. (AFP)

Far from expediting repatriation schemes, Western governments have instead sought to outsource the problem to SDF-controlled jails, the crude justice system of neighboring Iraq, or the cash-strapped Kurdish-run authorities and aid agencies operating Al-Hol.

The dangers posed by outsourcing the problem were amply demonstrated in January this year when Daesh remnants launched a massive and highly sophisticated attack on a prison in Hasakah where thousands of its former combatants were being held under SDF guard.

Some reports suggest that 374 militants were killed during the attack, along with 77 prison staff, 40 members of the SDF and four civilians. About 400 inmates remain unaccounted for, indicating that a significant number escaped.

The incident was only the latest in a spate of attacks and attempted escapes at camps and prisons throughout the region that suggest Daesh could be making a resurgence in an area where they had been considered a spent force.

Meanwhile, the children in Al-Hol are now fast becoming adults, radicalized by their mothers and peers, and resentful of their ill-treatment. Unless their plight is urgently addressed, and their psychological needs properly met, aid groups warn of extreme and lasting damage.

“Children cannot continue to live in such distressing conditions,” Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director, said in a recent statement.

“The level of violence they experience in Al-Hol on a daily basis is appalling. Insecurity in the camp needs to be effectively addressed without adding more stress and fear to these children’s lives, and they urgently need access to more psychosocial support to cope with their experiences.

“But the only lasting solution for this situation is to support children and their families to be able to safely and voluntarily leave the camp.

“This is no place for children to grow up.”

 


Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears
Updated 09 August 2022

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears
  • Egyptian envoy called on Israeli authorities to lift their blockade of Gaza, halt illegal settlement activity, and respect the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque
  • Israeli ambassador accused Palestinian Islamic Jihad of taking its orders from Iranian “puppet masters” whose “hatred know no boundaries”

NEW YORK: Although a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants, brokered by Egypt late on Sunday, put an end to intense fighting and appears to be holding, it is fragile and the underlying causes of the latest eruption of violence remain, the UN said on Monday.

It added that the cycle of violence will only stop with a political resolution to the decades-old conflict that ends the Israeli occupation and includes a two-State solution, based on the June 1967 borders and in line with UN resolutions and international law.

Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that 46 Palestinians were killed and 360 injured during the recent escalation, during which Israel launched 147 strikes on Gaza and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 1,100 rockets and mortars into Israel. Hundreds of homes and other civilian infrastructure were destroyed. The figures are provisional and “verification is ongoing,” he added.

“While fully recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns I reiterate that under international law, all use of force must be proportionate and take all feasible steps to avoid civilian casualties,” Wennesland said. “Children, in particular, must never be the target of violence or put in harm’s way.”

The UAE, together with China, France, Ireland and Norway, requested the emergency meeting to discuss the recent developments in the Gaza Strip.

Wennesland said that the escalation had exacerbated already chronic shortages of essential medicines in Gaza, and that the closure by Israel of the Erez crossing into the Strip for six days had severe humanitarian consequences for Gazans, including preventing patients traveling for medical treatment in Israel.

“The closures also worsened the already precarious food-security situation in the Gaza Strip,

reducing stocks of basic foods, particularly wheat flour,” he said.

Wennesland thanked Egypt for the role it played in securing the ceasefire, alongside the UN, and also thanked Qatar, Jordan, the US and the Palestinian Authority for their deescalation efforts.

“Together, these efforts helped prevent the outbreak of a full-scale war and allowed for the delivery of much-needed humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza starting earlier today,” he told the council members.

He welcomed the “timely reopening” of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings by Israel following the ceasefire, and he called on the leaderships of Israel and Palestine, along with the international community, to step up diplomatic efforts to resume negotiations aimed at securing a viable, two-state solution.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian permanent observer to the UN, accused Israel of “murdering and oppressing an entire nation.” He added that Israel’s “right to security has become a license to kill and needs to be revoked,” as he urged the Security Council to “act now.”

“If you are against violence, do not exclude Israeli violence,” he added. “Do not justify it. Are you ready to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ as the highest authority responsible for the maintenance of peace and security?

“Israeli kills our people because it can. When will the world show them that it cannot?”

Mansour told council members that “defenseless Palestinian families need your support; not a nuclear power, not an occupying power,” as he asked council members “to drag the two parties to the peace process, today before tomorrow.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, accused PIJ members of taking their orders from Iranian puppet masters, adding: “Their hate knows no boundaries.”

He drew a parallel between the PIJ and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the organization to which recently killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri once belonged.

“EIJ and PIJ share more than a similar name,” Erdan said. “They share the same value of annihilating the free and modern world that we live in.”

While the world welcomed the killing of Al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike on July 31, Erdan said that “UN officials suddenly express deep concern when Israel does the same. It’s hard to understand such double standards.”

He added: “The only remedy for Gazans is for their leaders to stop trying to annihilate Israel and stop investing in terror infrastructure.”

Erdan urged the Security Council to unite behind the condemnation of the PIJ: “Holding a debate and not using the opportunity to fully condemn their war crimes will motivate them to keep (committing more such crimes).”

He also thanked Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for his efforts in helping to broker the ceasefire and “restoring stability in our region.”

Osama Abdel Khalek Mahmoud, Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, called on Israeli authorities to end all of their illegal practices and halt the settlement expansion in the West Bank, which he described as “the most flagrant violation of Palestinian basic human rights,” and to lift the blockade of Gaza and allow food and fuel to begin flowing back into the Strip.

He also called on Israel to respect the legal and historical status of the holy sites in Eastern Jerusalem, urged all parties to refrain from targeting civilians, and asked the international community to help revive the peace process.

Mohammed Abushahab, the UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, expressed deep concern about the recent violence in Gaza and stressed the need for all parties to abide by their responsibilities under international law and international humanitarian law. He also condemned the Israeli incursion into Al-Aqsa Mosque as a provocative action.

“The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza cannot bear more shocks,” Abushahab said as he welcomed the truce and offered his country’s “sincere appreciation” to El-Sisi for his role in helping to restore calm.

Abushahab reiterated his country’s support for all regional and international efforts aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East, and renewed its support for a two-state solution.


Protests in Iraq over power cuts

Protests in Iraq over power cuts
Updated 09 August 2022

Protests in Iraq over power cuts

Protests in Iraq over power cuts

JEDDAH: Demonstrators in the southern Iraqi province of Basra blocked roads on Monday in protests over power cuts that left many without electricity in 50C heat.

People took to the streets and burned tires, blocking the main road to the provincial capital. Meanwhile followers of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr continued a sit-in outside the Iraqi parliament building to demand early elections. Demonstrators in Basra said they supported Sadr’s protest and were tired of government corruption.

“It’s not the first time we protest and it won’t be the last,” said Ali Hussein, 35. “We support him, and we ask that he punish the corrupt.”

The protests began after the collapse of the electricity grid in six southern provinces due to excessive demand amid high temperatures. Basra Gov. Asaad Al-Eidani said the latest cuts were due to a fire at a power station.

In the holy city of Najaf, a weapons depot belonging to the Iran-backed Hashd Al-Shaabi network of paramilitary groups exploded in the heat.


Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44
Updated 09 August 2022

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44
  • Three-day Israeli assault kills 44, including 15 children * Power plant restarts as fragile truce takes hold

GAZA CITY: Gazans on Monday buried their dead, combed through the rubble of their homes and counted the cost of another violent Israeli onslaught.

At least 44 Palestinians, including four women and 15 children, were killed in the three-day bombardment, and more than 350 were injured. Eighteen homes were completely destroyed, 1,675 were damaged  and 71 were made uninhabitable.

The attack began on Friday when Israel launched an aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions, the biggest assault since Israel’s 11-day war on Gaza last year.

The violence finally ended late on Sunday with a ceasefire brokered by Egypt. “We received the news of the ceasefire with joy and happiness and we went back to our work,” said Gaza shopkeeper Hazem Douima. “We did not want more bloodshed.”
Bereaved families buried the victims. At one funeral joined by hundreds of mourners in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, a single family laid four children to rest.

Sobhi El-Wawy, 44, told Arab News: “We thank God that we are still alive. They were hard days. There was bombing everywhere, it was frightening for adults and children. This is not the first time this has happened, and I don’t think it will be the last.

“We want to live as the rest of the world’s population lives ... we do not want wars and we do not want escalation, we want peace.”

Rahma Al-Borai said: “We are almost back to normal life, but the lives of those who lost their children or loved ones will be much more difficult.

“We live in Gaza under a harsh life, there is a lot of poverty, and there is a lot of pain, and unfortunately no one looks at us with this view ... the world is unjust.

“Look how the world dealt with Ukraine, and how they deal with the Palestinians. We are under bombardment ... we are dying for no reason. What we want is only freedom.”

As the fragile truce took hold on Monday, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing to supply fuel for Gaza’s only power plant, generating eight hours of electricity a day. It also reopened the Erez crossing for hospitalpatients, some diplomats and foreigners.

Palestinians cannot yet cross the border to work, which Israel said was dependent on a period of calm, and a security assessment.


Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case
Updated 08 August 2022

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

JERUSALEM: An Israeli court sentenced a former health minister to probation and a fine on Monday for obstructing justice in connection with the protracted extradition case against a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her students in Australia.

Yaakov Litzman, a former health minister and longtime ally of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, resigned from parliament earlier this year after striking a plea deal with prosecutors.

He was accused of pressuring ministry employees to alter psychiatric evaluations to make it appear that Malka Leifer was unfit to stand trial.

Leifer was extradited to Australia in January 2021 after a six-year legal battle that strained relations between the two countries and angered Australia’s Jewish community.

Leifer has pleaded not guilty to the charges and her trial is expected to start later this month.

Litzman was health minister during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic but resigned in April 2020 in the face of a public uproar over his handling of the crisis.  He was charged with fraud and breach of trust earlier this year, but pleaded guilty to the breach of trust charge in the Leifer case.

In Monday’s hearing, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court upheld the plea deal and sentenced Litzman to eight months of probation and a $900 fine.

He and Leifer are members of the country’s insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Last year, then-Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Litzman had used his position “to advance the interests of private individuals.”

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges that Litzman used his influence to prevent a friend’s deli from being shut down over health concerns.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said the court’s acceptance of the “lenient and shameful” plea deal erodes public trust and law enforcement’s ability to perform its duty.


Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria
Updated 08 August 2022

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria
  • A search was ongoing for an unspecified number of missing people

ALGIERS: Six migrants were found dead at sea and others were missing after their boat sank on Monday off the coast of Algeria, local television reported, adding six survivors were rescued.

“Six bodies were retrieved and six injured people, including a pregnant woman, have been transferred to hospital at Bainem” west of the capital Algiers, private television channel Ennahar said.

The boat capsized around 4 a.m. local time, it added.

A search was ongoing for an unspecified number of missing people.

The boat’s occupants originated from various sub-Saharan African countries.  They were attempting to reach Europe.

More than 2,350 would-be migrants have been rescued or intercepted in the first seven months of this year off Algeria, according to data provided by national authorities.

Spain is a favored destination for migrants embarking from the North African nation. Tunisian coast guards “rescued” more than 250 migrants who were attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, the North African country’s National Guard said on Sunday.

Maritime authorities “were able ... to rescue 255 would-be migrants, including 170 people of various African nationalities, with the remainder Tunisians,” the National Guard said in a statement on Facebook. The attempted crossings — 17 in total — took place on the night of Friday to Saturday from the east of Tunisia, according to National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli.

The statement did not indicate whether any vessels had got into difficulty or sunk, but did note that an unspecified sum of cash was seized during the operations.

In a separate statement later on Sunday, the Tunisian navy announced that 22 other would-be migrants, including nine children and three women, had been rescued on Saturday.

They were all Tunisian, the statement said, adding that they were rescued on a boat 80 km off the island of Kuriat near the eastern coastal city of Monastir.

The National Guard on Friday had carried out a “pre-emptive operation,” arresting five people who were “preparing to lead an illegal immigration bid departing from the coast of Sousse province in the east of the country,” spokesman Jebabli said.

The Tunisian coast guard announced in mid-July that 455 migrants had been “rescued” in several operations off the northern, eastern and southern coasts of the country. Attempts by migrants to reach Europe from the North African coastline tend to increase in spring and summer, due to the lower risk of stormy seas.

Tunisia and Libya are principal departure points and Italy a favored destination.