Kurdish Official Says Thousands of Syrians to Leave Crowded Refugee Camp

October 6, 2020 Updated: October 6, 2020

BEIRUT —As many as 15,000 Syrians could be moved out of the overcrowded al-Hol refugee camp in northeast Syria that holds displaced people and families of members of the ISIS terrorist group, Kurdish-led authorities said on Oct. 5.

Kurdish fighters with U.S. backing have seized much of northern and eastern Syria from ISIS. They have since held thousands of militants in prisons, while their wives and children—numbering tens of thousands, many of them foreigners—are living in camps.

The Al-Hol camp alone houses nearly 65,000 people, including about 28,000 Syrians, 30,000 Iraqis, and some 10,000 other foreigners of many nationalities, according to U.N. estimates.

“A decision will be issued to empty the Syrians from the camp completely,” said Kurdish leader Ilham Ahmed, in a video published by the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Kurdish-led SDF forces holding the region.

“Those who want to remain in the camp, this would not be the responsibility of the administration.”

UNICEF said in August that eight children had died in al-Hol, where it said children from 60 countries were languishing and COVID-19 infections among camp workers had worsened conditions.

Badran Jia Kurd, a vice president of the Kurdish-led authority that runs the SDF region, said some Syrians had already left the camp and that the process would be sped up.

He cited a need to reduce the burden on the camp and step up measures to curb security incidents which he said had risen.

Security Threat

Kurdish leaders have repeatedly warned that the ISIS fighters and their families pose a security threat and that they cannot detain the foreigners indefinitely, but foreign governments have hesitated to repatriate their citizens.

The United States said last week all known Americans allegedly supporting Islamic State and being held in Syria had been returned, some to face criminal charges. It urged European countries to account for their citizens.

Jia Kurd said that of the estimated 28,000 Syrians in the al-Hol camp, about 15,000 were from the mainly Arab areas of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, which the SDF captured from ISIS, and would be able to return if they chose to.

Many of the rest may not be able to leave if they have nowhere to go or don’t want to return to territory under Syrian state rule, he added.

By Ellen Francis