Concerns reached a fever pitch over the transfer of families, mostly women and children, from the Syrian al-Hol camp (which houses 30,000 Iraqis, including 20,000 children from different Iraqi governorates) east of Hasakeh city to Jada’a camp, south of Mosul, near the city of Qayyarah, as part of an agreement supported by the US administration and the UN. The move was done after preparing caravans, health and educational facilities for the transfer in partnership with international humanitarian organizations.
The move was met with popular protest in Mosul and Sinjar, considering it an affront to the Yazidis and the people of Mosul, as ISIS gangs have ramped up their brutal criminal activities against them and threatened security and stability in the areas of western Nineveh, especially those with religious, national and sectarian pluralism. Many among those transferred are considered to hold extremist ideology and be ISIS sympathizers. Some politicians and analysts consider the move to be a planned time bomb and see these measures as part of a scheme to justify the continuation of the US and international presence in Iraq, against the will of Parliament and the Iraqi people.
Others point out that there are many among those transferred that are wanted by the law. According to statistics from the Office for the Rescue of Abductees in Dohuk, there are approximately 400 Yazidi women and children in the Al Hol camp, who were not liberated due to their refusal to provide sufficient information, and because of their efforts to push the children towards adopting a terrorist ideology and also their involvement in smuggling ISIS members towards the Turkish border.
Some European governments have taken limited initiatives to officially and legally receive a number of children and women and move them to Europe to take part in psychological and social rehabilitation programs to combat extremism, remove them from extremist influences and ensure humanitarian support for them. On the other hand, most European countries refuse to receive them under the pretext that it is not possible to determine the nationality of the father.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee warned of the inhumane and dangerous conditions in the camps, especially in terms of the increase in extremist ideological tendencies among children and youth as a result of their exposure to abuse and violence, calling on 57 countries to take practical steps to repatriate and resettle their citizens. In his speech, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that this situation cannot continue, warning that the international community will continue to face long-term security risks if it does not address this crisis in a comprehensive manner through international initiatives that provide technical and financial support to meet their immediate and future needs as well as concerns regarding justice and security by age and social situation. He said that protection must be ensured for the children and victims, most of whom are under the age of 12, who were detained in prisons and camps in deplorable conditions due to lack of housing, food, health support, lack of security and the presence of physical and psychological violence, after the Iraqi military and security institutions, with international support, defeated ISIS militarily. The pandemic has also exacerbated the social, health and humanitarian conditions in the camps.
There is no doubt that the political, security and societal concerns around this dangerous reality, which is greater than the transfer of these families, are legitimate and need to be dealt with in a methodical and professional manner. However, this does not address the root cause, on the contrary, it exacerbates the situation and increases the risks.
In our estimation, the Iraqi government should take the initiative to follow a scientific and professional approach to study and analyze this complex reality in order to provide appropriate, well-thought-out solutions and treatments. This must be done in cooperation with the relevant authorities in the UN, the EU, and even the Arab League and the GCC to ensure political and financial support to deploy these solutions on the ground.
The first step is to form a specialized professional body that combines security and intelligence experts as well as experts in combatting extremism and terrorism in a modern context, to address the issue from its various security, psychological and social aspects. This body should call upon international expertise, including Iraqis and Arabs—of which there are significant numbers — to design a program that includes a database by surveying and analyzing the numbers of families and their age and social structure, checking their backgrounds for participation in terrorist activities, as well as assessing health, psychological, intellectual and behavioral aspects, and developing a formulation that depends on professionalism and objectivity in assessing risks for the possibilities of engaging in future terrorist acts. This should be followed by a clear plan for psychological and social care to reduce the risks of extremism, tailored to each individual according to their unique circumstances. One such solution revolves around family care that supports keeping children with their families and dealing with them as a family unit, providing mental health and social care and psychological support, addressing the effects of cruelty and violence in the light of an objective assessment, and ensuring the availability of appropriate health and educational services and contexts that reduce stigma. There are ethical and legal aspects that may need special legislation to properly deal with these complex cases in line with the Iraqi constitution and Iraqi and international human rights regulations.
In conclusion, continuing to deal with the massive numbers of camp dwellers from only a political or security perspective, or through activities done merely for the theatrics of national reconciliation, will turn the situation into a time bomb. In the end, because of the complexities involves, the options for dealing with this problem are limited, and the choices are clear.
This article was originally published in, and translated from Iraqi daily news outlet Al Mada.