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Violence in al-Hol Camp, Human Rights Abuses in Northeast Syrian Detention Center

By Victoria Zimmerman

Around 60,000 displaced people are experiencing increased violence and exploitation within the al-Hol camp in northeast Syria. This camp serves as a detention center for displaced people with connections to suspected ISIL fighters, the majority of residents being women and children. The camp is made up of around 30,000 Iraqis, 20,000 Syrians, and 10,000 people from other countries. Al-Hol is located on the border between Syria and Iraq, which is currently controlled by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Within the camp, extreme violence between SDF and ISIL has threatened the security of camp residents. In March of this year, three people, including a child, were killed and ten residents were left wounded by a clash between SDF and ISIL. This is just one report of the violence taking place in al-Hol that has left residents feeling as if they are trapped “between two fires.”

"The residents of al-Hol were promised safety and security but were met with violence"

According to The New Humanitarian, the repatriation process of Iraqis to the al-Hol camp lacked transparency and increased tensions of residents. Much of this tension is rooted in concerns regarding the welcoming of extremists into the camp and the ideological differences between the various groups within the camp.

Reportedly, at least 47 people were killed by ISIS sleeper cell agents in 2021, which justified the concerns of residents as well as raise tensions further. Along with these added tensions, aid workers have reported that the repatriation process is unorganized and the camps are often unprepared to accept residents in regards to sanitation, healthcare, electricity, nutrition, and shelter.

Residents of al-Hol are exploited by harsh security measures that have threatened the lives of its residents, including children. As of last year, seventy-nine children have died in the camp due to delays in providing medical care. One of these instances took place in February 2021 when a seven year-old boy was taken to an Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic with second-degree burns.

Though he needed to be immediately hospitalized, it took two days for his transport to be approved by camp officials, resulting in his death. In another report a few months later, another boy died en route to the hospital because of delays in transfer approval. Both boys died alone and in extreme agony.

Photo provided by: Middle East Institute

64 percent of the population of al-Hol are children, and 35 percent of the children have died in the camp since 2021. 38 of all deaths in the camp were related to crime, while the rest have been a result of poor sanitation, malnutrition, and poor healthcare in the camp. Many residents of al-Hol have referred to it as a “death camp,” while one resident said that “There is no safety here, we don’t feel safe. I have three boys, and I’m always worried because we don’t know who is doing the killings or when they will happen. Three years ago, one of my sons went to the market one afternoon and never came back.”

The residents of al-Hol were promised safety and security but were met with violence, unsafe conditions, and exploitation when they arrived.

MSF’s Syria Operations Manager Martine Flokstra has stated that members of the Global Coalition against IS, “must take responsibility and identify alternative solutions for the people detained in the camp. Instead, they have delayed or simply refused to repatriate their citizens, in some cases going as far as to strip them of their citizenship, rendering them stateless.”

It is time that the global community comes together to acknowledge the human rights abuses taking place at al-Hol in order to identify a solution for those suffering within this detention center.

Cover Photo: "Assistant Secretary for Population, Migration, and Refugees Anne C. Richard Visiting Rohingya Refugee Camp in Aceh" by U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia


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