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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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)
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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.”

 


Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery
Updated 24 June 2022

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery
  • PM-designate to meet MPs as first step towards forming new govt

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s newly reappointed prime minister-designate Najib Mikati has called on the Lebanese to leave their differences aside and put the country on the path to recovery.

Mikati, currently serving as caretaker PM, was named prime minister-designate by President Michel Aoun on Thursday after binding parliamentary consultations.

The billionaire, who has already served in the role three times, received the support of 54 of 128 MPs.

However, if he fails to form a new government in the four months before President Michel Aoun’s term ends on Oct. 31, no executive decisions will be able to be taken during that time.

Meanwhile, 25 MPs designated Nawaf Salam, a former Lebanese ambassador to the UN and now a judge at the International Court of Justice, while one MP, Jihad Al-Samad, designated former premier Saad Hariri, arguing that “Hariri is the top representative of the Sunni community in Lebanon.”

Forty-six MPs, including Christian MPs affiliated with the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, in addition to some reformist MPs, refrained from designating anyone.

Mikati is expected to hold non-binding parliamentary consultations by Monday or Tuesday to elicit MPs’ opinions, and to see whether the new government will be a government of national unity.

Following the binding parliamentary consultations, many MPs stressed the importance of forming a government.

MP Sami Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, said: “I wish MPs would stop saying that there will be no government before the presidential elections. The country cannot wait, and the people cannot wait, nor can the economy or the national currency. Lebanon cannot withstand four more months like this.”

Calling on the forces of change to unite to form an opposition force, opposition MP Michel Moawad said: “The dispersal of the opposition is a major obstacle to our ability to achieve change.

“We have a collective responsibility in the opposition to agree on the crucial milestones; otherwise we will bear the responsibility for what is happening in the country.”

Hezbollah did not announce its position on participating in the government, but did designate Mikati to form it.

MP Bilal Abdallah, from the Democratic Gathering bloc, told Arab News: “When it comes to forming a government, the current stage is different from the previous ones. Last time, we designated Mikati and participated in his government, but we have a different approach today. We have called on unifying the political position of the opposition, but no one answered our call. The majority remains divided.”

Abdallah said that the FPM did not designate Mikati the last time, but insisted on selecting all the Christian ministers in his government.

“Will this happen again this time? That political team’s demands will be even more impossible to meet if it wishes to disrupt the presidential elections. We got so used to seeing this team disrupting political life; how can we trust that it wants to hold presidential elections on time? They have always disrupted government just to have their way. Disruption is their middle name.”

Meanwhile, the FPM is continuing its campaign against Riad Salameh, seeking to have the central bank governor replaced before the end of Aoun’s term.

Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun filed another lawsuit against Salameh, his four former deputies, former director-general of the Ministry of Finance Alain Biffany, and several central bank employees in light of a complaint submitted by the People Want Reform group against Salameh and anyone whom the investigations show to be involved in illicit enrichment, money laundering, forgery, counterfeiting and fraud.

Aoun, who is affiliated with the FPM, referred the case to the first investigative judge in Mount Lebanon, requesting the arrest of Salameh and the others, and referring them to the Mount Lebanon Criminal Court, while maintaining the travel ban issued against Salameh.

Earlier, Aoun personally supervised a raid on Salameh’s home in the Rabieh area.

State security officers searched the house and opened safes, only to find that the property had been abandoned and the safes contained only some papers, which were confiscated.


Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla
Updated 24 June 2022

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla
  • About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday
  • The casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence

RABAT, Morocco: Moroccan authorities said that five migrants were killed and scores of migrants and police officers were injured in a “stampede” of people trying to cross into the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla on Friday.
About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday, the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said about 2,000 people attempted to enter the North African city.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that the casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence. It said five migrants were killed and 76 injured, and 140 Moroccan security officers were injured.
Those who succeeded in crossing went to a local migrant center, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances.
Several migrants and police officers were slightly injured, said the spokesperson, who could not be identified by name in keeping with government rules.
People fleeing poverty and violence sometimes make mass attempts to reach Melilla and the other Spanish territory on the North African coast, Ceuta, as a springboard to continental Europe.
Spain normally relies on Morocco to keep migrants away from the border.
Over two days at the beginning of March, more than 3,500 people tried to scale the 6-meter (20-foot) barrier that surrounds Melilla and nearly 1,000 made it across, according to Spanish authorities.
Friday’s crossings were the first attempt since relations between Spain and Morocco improved in March after a year-long dispute centered on the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.
Morocco loosened its controls around Ceuta last year, allowing thousands of migrants to cross into Spain. The move was viewed as retaliation for Spain’s decision to allow the leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence movement to be treated for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital.
Tensions between the two countries began to thaw earlier this year after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to Western Sahara, where activists are seeking full independence.


Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque ‘in danger of collapsing’ due to Israeli excavation work: Site official

Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
Updated 24 June 2022

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque ‘in danger of collapsing’ due to Israeli excavation work: Site official

Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
  • Israelis have been carrying out excavations beneath Islam’s third-holiest site for a number of weeks

RAMALLAH: Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site which they claim has caused cracks and other damage to the building’s structure.

And Azzam Al-Khatib, director general of the city’s Islamic Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs department, has warned that the mosque could be in danger of collapse if the digging continued at its current intensity.

The Israelis have been carrying out excavations beneath Islam’s third-holiest site for a number of weeks which officials say has led to cracks appearing and stones being dislodged from walls and ceilings.

Al-Khatib said: “There are dangerous and unknown excavations, and no one knows what they are and what their goals are. We see the removal of large quantities of dust and hear the sounds of digging equipment and the breaking of stones.

“The vibrations led to the fall of several stones from the mosque’s ceilings in the southern prayer halls.

“I asked the Israeli police to allow specialized engineers and technicians from our department to find out what is going on and what is happening, and for a week we have been talking to the Israeli police about these excavations, which are taking place day and night, and they just ignore our request,” he added.

Al-Khatib noted that similar activities had taken place in the past but digging work had been stepped up in recent weeks.

He said: “We are concerned about the tunnels being dug that may lead to the collapse of the Al-Aqsa. So, we informed the Jordanian Royal Court, the Jordanian Ministry of the Islamic Awqaf, the Jordanian ambassador, and most importantly, we appealed to (Jordan’s) King Abdullah, custodian of the holy sites, to intervene in this issue.

“The Islamic Awqaf does not want friction but is deeply concerned about surprises for Al-Aqsa and stability in the region.

“I asked the Israeli police to allow us to repair the wall from which stones came off, and which might be in danger of collapsing, but they refused.

“Neither the Waqf, nor UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) knows what is happening. We are entrusted with Al-Aqsa and carrying out our mission. What is happening is a dangerous matter that worries and frightens us,” Al-Khatib added.

Technical sources in the Islamic Awqaf told Arab News that a committee of engineers and experts affiliated with the department had been set up to look into what was happening and report back to officials.


Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader
Updated 24 June 2022

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader
  • Palestinian people have the right ‘to establish their independent state,’ president says
  • ‘Hamas stands in solidarity with Lebanon,’ Ismail Haniyeh, head of group’s political bureau, says

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Friday reaffirmed his country’s position on the Palestinian cause during a meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the political bureau of Hamas.

Aoun expressed “the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on all their national territory, with Jerusalem as its capital,” and stressed Palestinian refugees’ right to return home.

“Palestinians’ resistance to occupation is not terrorism,” Aoun said, adding that “no one can imagine Jerusalem without the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other holy sites,” and stressing the need “to preserve Jerusalem, where Christianity, Islam and Judaism meet.”

After the meeting, Haniyeh said: “The Israeli occupation does not differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian in Palestine, especially in Jerusalem.

“Hamas stands in solidarity with Lebanon and condemns the Israeli enemy’s attempt to steal from Lebanon’s maritime resources.”

He added that he wished Lebanon “security, stability and more solidarity.”

Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon is his third in two years and coincided with World Refugee Day. On his first visit, he said: “Our missiles will be launched from our land (targeting Israel) and we will not involve Lebanon.”

Raafat Murra, a Hamas official, said Haniyeh’s visit to Beirut “highlights the need to resolve the crisis of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”

Haniyeh’s office said one of the aims of the trip was “addressing the reality of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon” as well as “consulting and cooperating with the Palestinian factions’ officials, in a way that serves the Palestinian cause.”

A Palestine Liberation Organization official in Lebanon, who chose to remain anonymous, told Arab News that “the PLO and Fatah are not involved with Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon. This visit is part of the special program between Hamas and Hezbollah.”

During his time in Lebanon, Haniyeh also visited Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Hezbollah said that “Haniyeh and Nasrallah underlined the importance of cooperation between the Axis of Resistance to serve the central goal, which is concerned with Jerusalem, holy sites and the Palestinian cause.”

The PLO official said that Hezbollah was “trying to solve the problems between Hamas and the Syrian regime.”

Asked about a Hamas announcement that Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon was related to the Palestinian refugee camps, he said the refugees had their own authority — the PLO — and that Lebanon recognized the independent state of Palestine and deals with it to address all issues facing the camps.


Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life
Updated 24 June 2022

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life
  • The ministry said both internal and external elements were involved in plans targeting the president
  • An attacker was arrested after injuring two police while targeting a security point outside a Tunis synagogue overnight

JEDDAH: Security chiefs in Tunisia have uncovered plots to assassinate President Kais Saied amid concerns over a growing political crisis, they said on Friday.

The threats were revealed as an attacker previously jailed on terrorism charges and released in 2021 tried to stab two police officers guarding a synagogue in the center of Tunis.

“According to credible information and investigations still underway, the president of the republic and the presidency as an institution are the target of serious threats,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Fadhila Khelifi said.

“There is a plan by groups both at home and abroad to target the security of the president” and to “damage state security and create chaos,” she said.

In Tunis, the man armed with a knife attacked police deployed to guard the Grand Synagogue in the city center, wounding two officers before he was overpowered. The ministry said an investigation was underway.

Before its independence from France in 1956, Tunisia was home to over 100,000 Jews, but emigration has brought their numbers down to about 1,000.

Since the so-called “Arab Spring” revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El-Abidine ben Ali in 2011, a number of jihadist attacks in Tunisia have killed dozens of people.

The latest attack comes amid a deep economic and political crisis almost a year since Saied assumed complete power in July 2021. The president’s opponents accuse him of a coup for ruling by decree and preparing a new constitution that he plans to put to a referendum next month.

Opposition to Saied has broadened over recent months as nearly all major political parties and the powerful labor union have come out against his plans, holding street rallies against him.

However, while critics of the president say his moves have raised concerns over rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution, there has been no widespread crackdown on the opposition.

Saied says his moves are legal and were needed to save Tunisia from years of political
paralysis, economic stagnation and the malign influence of Islamist groups.

Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, a prominent left-wing politician and Saied opponent, cast doubt on claims of a plot to kill the president. “This is just to justify new arrests and to take revenge against his rivals,” Chebbi said. “The president is politically isolated and is trying to stir up public sympathy.”

Ennahdha, the Islamist party that had dominated Tunisian politics before Saied took power, dismissed the threats as “theater.”