Tension, fear and violence in Syria’s al-Hol displacement camp


-In July 2019, a video surfaced
on social media showing a woman carrying a child
and walking out of a hospital in the Kurdish-controlled region
of northeast Syria. Officials said they had been
brought from a nearby camp, where they were being held
with other family members of Islamic State fighters. In the hospital bathroom,
the woman changed clothes. She walked out with the child, slipping past
her guards unnoticed. A motorcycle for the pair
waited at the entrance. They rode off and disappeared. The hospital kept
what she left behind — a toy truck, a child’s backpack,
and some clothing. The escape illustrates
the enormous security challenge facing the Syrian Kurds. The United States
and its Kurdish allies defeated the Islamic State’s
territorial caliphate in March, but the Kurds has since found
in their charge some 90,000 Islamic State
fighters and family members with little outside support. The vast majority of these
families are being held in an overcrowded displacement
camp adjacent to Al-Hol, a former Islamic State
stronghold. Signs of the group are still
present in the town, from trenches dug
by the Islamic State, white paint covering the black
flag, and ISIS graffiti. In the past year, the camp’s
population has swelled to more than 70,000. The vast majority are children. “The Washington Post”
spoke with Kurdish officials, aid workers, and camp residents, who described rising tension,
fear, and violence in the camp. Kurdish guards have been stabbed
with kitchen knives. Camp authorities and residents
said ISIS loyalists are terrorizing women
seen as impious. -Are you scared
of other sisters? -I’m scared. I am scared.
I am so scared. It’s not normal. -Foreign women, who the guards
consider to be more radical, are kept in a separate section
from the Syrians and the Iraqis. Medical documents obtained by
“The Post” provided details on the deaths
of two foreign women. An Indonesian in her 40s
was found dead, naked. Bruises covered her lips,
shoulders, and upper arms. She was six months pregnant and had suffered trauma
to her abdomen. Doctors concluded
in another report that an Azerbaijani teenager
was strangled to death. Teeth marks on her
upper lip indicated she had died
of suffocation. Her mother told aid workers
the teen had slipped and fallen. Some women have claimed
abuse at the hands of guards. One time I was, I usually
have a wheelchair that I put my kids in,
because it’s two, you know. And I was walking
and, I don’t know, [a guard] was talking to me
and then, okay, she was very rude,
you know? And then I matched her tone
with her rudeness, and then she pushed
on my wheelchair with my kids and I said,
“Don’t do it,” and I got very angry
because they’re children. Then she pointed a gun at them
and says to me like “Daesh [Islamic State],
what, what, what?” We’re responsible for what
we do but the children? Why would you put a gun
on his head? -Conditions inside the camp
are dire, especially for children. From December 2018 to July 2019, nearly 300 children
under the age of 5 died, many from severe malnutrition. A cemetery sits just
outside the camp. Small graves are marked
with bricks and stones. Elsewhere in the Kurdish region, acts of terrorism puncture
everyday life. “The Post” witnessed
the aftermath of a car bombing in a town around a two hours’
drive from the camp. Security forces were
the intended target, but the blast killed
three children. They had been displaced
from Aleppo by a war that is meant to be
winding down.

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