Syrians linked to IS will be allowed to leave sprawling camp

BEIRUT (AP) — The Kurdish-led authority in northeast Syria will allow Syrian citizens to leave a sprawling camp that houses tens of thousands of women and children, many of them linked to the Islamic State group, a Kurdish official said Monday.

Most of the detainees at al-Hol camp are Syrian and Iraqi women and children. Another highly secured tent settlement that is part of the camp is known as the Annex and is home to some 10,000 hard-line IS supporters from other countries.

The sprawling and overpopulated camp is home to some 65,000 people and has been a burden to the Kurdish-led U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and Kurdish police who are in charge of security at the facility. Crime rates have been high inside the camp and some of the women have tried to escape.

“A decision will be taken to empty Syrians from the camp completely,” said Ilham Ahmed, the president of the executive committee of the Syrian Democratic Council, the self-administration body in northeast Syria. Ahmed, who spoke in a video posted on the SDC page on social media, did not say when that decision will be made.

IS controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria starting mid-2014 and during that period thousands of men and women brought their children and came to settle in the self-declared caliphate.

The extremists lost the last sliver of land they controlled last year when Kurdish-led fighters captured the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.

Ahmed said those who will remain in the camp will not be the responsibility of the self-administration. She said the administration is spending a lot of money to provide food and water to the camp’s residents.

“The camp is a heavy burden to the self-administration,” Ahmed said.

Kurdish authorities have been calling on home countries of the women and children to repatriate their citizens but most of them refused to do so. Those countries have also refused to repatriate thousands of IS militants held in jails run by the SDF.

U.N. counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov said in July that the U.N. Office of Counter-Terrorism, which he heads, is pushing the issue very strongly with countries whose citizens are detained. Only a small number are repatriating their citizens, including Central Asian countries, the United States and Russia, he said.

Voronkov said there are “victims of terrorism” who didn’t understand what they were doing when they accompanied the men in their families to Syria and Iraq. But he added that “there are a lot of radicalized women among detained people in camps.”

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