Despite the destruction of the ISIS Caliphate nearly three years ago, the surviving ISIS fighters and their families have formed their own separate society inside the massive al-Hawl Camp. The sprawling camp of over 50,000 ISIS-affiliated men, women, and children has proven to be one of the most difficult and dangerous environments for the AANES and the NGOs and humanitarian organizations that work with it to attempt to control and organize. The murder of Bassam Mohammed, a Kurdish Red Crescent medical worker in January, 2022 is a shocking indication of the enduring security threat the camp poses. Over 90 people were killed in the camp in 2021, making it the deadliest year at the camp so far.
The camp’s sheer enormity, combined with the fact that nearly all of its denizens consist of ISIS wives, their children, and other supporters of the terrorist group have turned it into a “ticking time bomb” for not just North and East Syria, but the international community. Many of the camp’s denizens are non-Syrian, and attempts have been made to repatriate foreigners, with several countries such as Iraq, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan repatriating hundreds of individuals. However, many other countries have chosen to instead revoke their citizen’s passports, rendering them stateless and unable to leave.
In early 2021, General Frank McKenzie of US Central Command stated “Unless the international community finds a way to repatriate, reintegrate into home communities, and support locally grown reconciliation programs we will bear witness to the indoctrination of the next generation of ISIS as these children become radicalized”. The issue of ISIS-affiliated persons is an international issue that is too large for the AANES to handle on its own. While the repatriation of foreigners would address the issue to an extent, the lack of consistency country-to-country makes this a limited solution. An alternative proposal is to set up an international tribunal to investigate, try, and sentence ISIS members who committed crimes, as these crimes were not limited to one country. So far, there has been very little progress towards any such plan.
The issue of Al-Hawl Camp and the tens of thousands of ISIS-affiliated individuals is not an issue that will disappear overnight, and with many children growing up under the extremist ISIS ideology inside these camps, it is only a matter of time before the issue becomes completely impossible to ignore. Without change, it is likely that the killings inside the camp will continue, making it increasingly difficult to maintain security, provide services, and promote deradicalization programs for the camp’s population.