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The al-Hol camp in Syria - a ticking time bomb

Thousands of relatives of IS fighters live in the al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria, many of them citizens of an EU member state. During my trip to Iraq and Syria in November, I got a picture of the situation on the ground and talked to the people involved.

Several European newspapers reported on my impressions.

IS supporters and the judiciary: A ticking time bomb

Article of the Süddeutsche Zeitung (German)

German relatives of IS fighters in Syria: "Worse than Guantanamo"

Article of the Redaktionsnetzwerks Deutschland (German)

My impressions from the camp

The humanitarian situation in Al-Hol is very bad. International aid organisations hardly get access, inhabitants lack winter clothing and access to warm water.
The relatives of foreign ISIS fighters are placed in a separate section within the Al-Hol camp, where tens of thousands of people are housed. So far, the Kurdish security forces have been able to prevent people from escaping – but they cannot control what happens inside the camp. The most radical women run the camp like a miniature ISIS state, and the children grow up radicalised. This poses a major security risk, not only for Syria.

Cryptocurrency and the crumbling caliphate: The high tech money trail left as jihadi families try to flee refugee camps

Article of the Independent

How can the security risk in al-Hol be addressed?

In Syria, it is currently not possible to conduct trials according to international standards on the rule of law. The country is still in civil war, and ruler Bashar al-Assad would not allow the establishment of a tribunal to prosecute war crimes, for fear of being tried himself. An alternative would be to give this task to local courts in the Kurdish region, an approach Sweden is considering. The problem is that Turkey resists any kind of recognition for the Kurds.
It would therefore be best to bring back ISIS supporters with EU citizenship to Europe and try them here in case they have committed crimes. Then we could also start deradicalisation programmes. But the topic of repatriation is a taboo for most EU member states. In the meantime we need support measures on the ground, for example deradicalisation programmes in the Syrian camps. In the long run, a comprehensive solution is needed: Al-Hol and the prisons for among others European ISIS fighters in northern Syria are a ticking time bomb.

Foreign IS fighters in Northeast Syrian camps – a ‘ticking time bomb’ for Europe

Article of Euractiv

'Tijd dringt voor ophalen IS-vrouwen: ’We weten straks niet meer waar ze zijn’'

Article of the Telegraaf (Dutch)
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