Syria’s Hawl camp attracts US attention for being ISIS epicenter

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – The US pays great attention to the Hawl Camp – which is the most dangerous  place in northeastern Syria – following bloody events in the city of Hasakah, during which cells of the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked the al-Sinaa Prison in January 2022 in a bid to free fellow extremist inmates.

Last weekend, a delegation of seven officials of the US Department of State and Defense visited Hawl Camp, east of Hasakah city. The visit heeds to Washington’s increasing interest in the camp.

This visit was preceded by a similar one on September 9  by the commander of the US Central Command, General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, in which he stressed that the camp constitute a fertile ground for the next generation of ISIS.

The US embassy in Syria said the recent US delegation’s visit came to “discuss repatriations,” and encouraged all countries with nationals in the camps of northeastern Syria to take this step.

On Monday, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price stressed that the US continues “to encourage all countries” to work with it to reach “durable” solutions and to alleviate the worsening crisis.

Observers believe that the families of ISIS in the camps in northeastern Syria are considered motive for the organization’s militants, and they have a major role in its activities, and the residents of this camp receive support from external parties.

Speaking of visits, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ethan Goldrich visited on Saturday the city of Qamishli, northeastern Syria, to meet with officials from the Department of Foreign Relations of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

The two parties discussed several issues, including terrorism in the region and the repatriation of foreign nationals from the Hawl and Roj camps. The deputy was accompanied by a team specialized in civil and humanitarian affairs.

Goldrich was received by Badran Chia Kurd, co-chiar of the AANES’ Department of Foreign Relations, who expressed the Autonomous Administration’s readiness to cooperate with the countries willing to repatriate their nationals from the camps and prisons of northeast Syria.

The Autonomous Administration has not hesitated to express its approval of evacuating the camp from the ISIS families at every opportunity, and even called for it on several occasions.

On September 28, US Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Lindsey Graham introduced the Syria Detainee and Displaced Persons Act to address the humanitarian and security concerns posed by the camps in north and east Syria – particularly the Hawl Camp.

Soft efforts

The AANES has repeatedly criticized the Western countries’ lax attitude to find fundamental solutions to the problem of ISIS families in the camps and to establish an international court to try ISIS militants who reside in the prisons of northeast Syria.

Despite the repatriations from the Roj and Hawl camps, the Autonomous Administration considers them ineffective steps.

As for Syrians who reside in these camps, most of them are unable to return to their areas for security reasons.

The Iraqi government has repeatedly delayed the repatriation process, though it has returned nationals more than any other country, for reasons related to the security situation in the country, according to official Iraqi statements. Iraqi nationals comprise the majority of people in Hawl Camp.

At the beginning of November, an exclusive source told North Press that they are registering a number of Syrians’ names to get them out of the Hawl Camp to the city of Manbij, northern Syria, making it the third batch of Syrians leaving the camp in 2022.

In the second batch, 400 Syrians left the camp and headed to their areas in Deir ez-Zor and its countryside.

A few days later, the Iraqi National Security Adviser, Qasim al-Araji, said that his country’s government would continue to return Iraqi refugees from the Hawl Camp in Syria.

Hawl camp, located 45 km east of Hasakah city, houses about 50,000 people, including about 30,000 Iraqis.

On October 18, Iraqi authorities repatriated 157 families from Hawl Camp to al-Jada’a camp in the Iraqi Governorate of Mosul, raising the total number of Iraqi families who left the camp in 2022 to 925.

In addition, several European delegations have visited northeastern Syria since the beginning of 2022, the last of which was from Canada, which has repatriated four of its nationals, two women and two children.

On November 1, the AANES’ Department of Foreign Relations also handed over 11 women and 33 children to a Dutch government delegation, and a woman and four children to the German government delegation. All of those returned are from families of ISIS militants.

The number of foreign ISIS family members who have been repatriated this year reached 517, the majority of whom are children. This number is the highest since the terrorist organization was declared defeated in 2019, according to official statistics.

Reporting by Adnan Hamo