Syria jails and camps foreign nationals are in crisis
ROJ CAMP (Syria) -- At night, Zakia Kachar heard footsteps approaching her tent at a camp for foreigners associated with Islamic State group extremists. The IS fighters' wives had arrived for Zakia Kachar with rocks in their hands.
She fled with her children, to a different area of the Roj camp in northeast Syria. She said, "They wanted me to die."
The dual Serbian-German citizen had earlier that day fought back against a camp resident who was disapproving of her wearing make-up. Kachar attacked the woman after she had bit her.
These clashes between IS supporters who are hardline and those who have strayed from its extreme ideology are causing security problems for the U.S-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (or SDF), which runs Roj, and other camps for IS detainees, are exacerbating the security problems.
The SDF was the leader in the fight against IS. They drove the militants from their last remaining territory in 2019. Three years later, thousands of IS foreign supporters still remain in SDF-run detention centers and camps. Their home countries are reluctant to repatriate them. These foreigners arrived in Syria from all over the globe, many with their children, to join Islamic State's "caliphate." The SDF points to the lockups - crammed full of restless detainees with a history, some with violence - as the main source of instability throughout the region.
The Gweiran neighborhood of Hassakeh was the victim of a deadly attack on a prison cell. It happened last month. This brought attention to the uncertain futures of the foreigners and the limitations of Kurdish captors who were trying to control them. Authorities took nearly two weeks to stop the attack that claimed the lives of 121 security officers.
The Kurdish-led government is urging countries to repatriate their citizens, despite being stretched thin in the face of an economic crisis and increasing threats from IS sleeper cell cells.
Mazloum Abdi (region's top security chief, commander of the SDF) stated that "We are struggling."
There is no way out
Roj camp is home to approximately 2,500 children and women. This tune is very popular with youth in North America.
The melody cuts through the noise of everyday life for a few moments, drowning out the U.N.-emblazoned tents and children's voices. The lyrics depict the sisterhood of women who travel long distances to visit their prison partners.
Shamima Begum, a British-born woman who was stripped of her U.K. citizenship. This case attracted international attention and raised concerns about the moral responsibilities of nations toward IS members.
Their days are filled with monotony. They wait to hear back from their repatriation appeals. Mothers clean, cook, and wait.
Many women from Hassakeh removed the black garb worn by IS wives and wore jeans, baseball caps, and other makeup that was prohibited under IS's brutal rule. They are kept apart from their hardline neighbours who often attack them.
Tents made from flammable cotton canvas have been burned to create chaos.
Kachar has not received any indications from Germany or Serbia that they would be open to her repatriating her and her five children aged six-16 years.
According to Kurdish authorities, Roj Camp has been maintained by up to 200 security personnel since the Gweiran prison assault.
"Our security forces exist, but the problem lies in the ideology of some women," stated a Roj official, speaking on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to brief the media.
Kachar's 11-year-old daughter was with her father when she accompanied him to Syria in 2015. "I want to return home. It is enough. She said that her children needed a normal existence.
"A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY"
It is al-Hol Camp with 56,000 refugees and people displaced, which is many times bigger than Roj. This is where security is most critical and human needs are most urgent.
Security officials stated that there is no law and order, and that women have been killed for taking off their niqab (the veil conservative Muslim women wear), and they are not allowed to be in public.
The majority of non-Arab foreigners, although not all, are accommodated in the annex to al-Hol. According to the United Nations, there are 8,213, with two-thirds of them being minors. Another 30,000 are Iraqi citizens.
Kurdish security officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations in the camp claimed that security started to deteriorate in March 2021 due to targeted killings by camp leaders.
Many people reported an increase in extortion and blackmail against security personnel and NGO workers.
Kurdish authorities claim that the camp is a breeding ground of IS with active sleeper cells. Aid workers blamed the rise in criminal activity on desperation, which stemmed from widespread poverty and stigmatization as well as limited freedom of movement.
Recent violence, sparked by the smuggling weapons and other illegal activity, has raised questions about the complicity in the SDF authorities. Abdi, SDF commander, admitted that there were instances of corruption.
"Some trucks, for instance, are water trucks but they are actually smuggling out humans." He said that if they are able to take out people, they can bring in weaponry."
SDF and international NGOs have been in discussions about new security arrangements for al-Hol. These would allow the camp to be divided into sections and limit movement. They also propose fences, checkpoints, and watchtowers. Many aid workers worry that this will make the camp a de facto prison for children and women.
At least 300 families have been transferred to Roj Camp in order to lessen the pressure on al Hol. This year, 150 additional families are anticipated.
The official from Roj camp stated that "it has caused us more problems because these women are encouraging other radical like them."
Some countries are slowly returning their nationals. Several women were recently repatriated by Sweden and the Netherlands.
Abrar Muhammed (36), a former IS logistics manager and detainee, thinks his wife might have been one of them. He said that a guard at the prison informed the Swedish citizen.
Muhammed has not seen his wife since January 2019, when Muhammed fled IS ranks and was taken into custody at an SDF checkpoint. This occurred months before the fall the last territorial foothold of IS, Baghouz, northeastern Syria. Since then, he has been held in one of 27 detention centers throughout northeast Syria.
Muhammed, who was speaking to The Associated Press at a Hassakeh facility, said that he wanted to return and face justice in Sweden. "In a country that has laws."
Abdi stated that the international community must take responsibility for the camps and prisons.
"It's not our problem. We share the burden. This is our demand.