Hundreds of IS relatives leave camp in northeast Syria

June 3, 2019
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FILE - In this Sunday, March 31, 2019, file photo, women line up for aid supplies at Al-Hol camp in Hassakeh province, Syria. A local official and witnesses in northeastern Syria said Monday, June 3, 2019 hundreds of Syrian women and children related to fighters from the Islamic State group are leaving an overcrowded camp in the country's north to return to their homes.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — Scores of women and children related to fighters of the Islamic State group carried their belongings and boarded buses and trucks Monday, leaving an overcrowded camp in the country’s northeast to return to their homes.

A total of 800 Syrian women and children left al-Hol camp in Hasakeh province Monday afternoon, according to Syrian Kurdish official Badran Ciya Kurd and witnesses. The departure is the largest since the IS group’s territorial defeat in Syria in March, when the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured Baghouz, the last village controlled by the militants near the Iraqi border.

The SDF-controlled al-Hol camp in Hasakeh, which was initially built to house up to 10,000 displaced people, is now home to over 73,000. Ninety-two percent of them are women and children and 15 percent, or at least 11,000, are foreign nationals, according to the United Nations.

Reducing the population of al-Hol will help ease the burden on aid groups that have been overwhelmed with the flow of people in the past months.

At the height of their power, IS controlled nearly a third of Syria and large parts of Iraq, an area where millions of people had lived and the group imposed its self-declared caliphate.

At a conference in early May in northern Syria, tribal leaders called for the release of those being detained in the camps who have no blood on their hands. Tribal leaders have promised to hand over any person of those who left in the camp if they carry out any IS-related activities.

The conference coincided with tensions that had been on the rise in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour between the local Arab population and the Kurdish-led SDF.

Early Monday, the women and children gathered while waiting for Kurdish officials and tribal leaders to come later in the day to witness their departure.

The women, draped in black and their faces covered, sat on the ground watching their children. Others walked around as their bags were being loaded into trucks.

One woman told The Associated Press that she had been in the camp for nearly 100 days. She added that so far “we don’t know anything about what happened to our men.” She was apparently referring to IS suspects being held by SDF fighters.

They later headed to their homes in the northern city of Raqqa, once the de facto capital of IS, and the nearby town of Tabqa.

The Kurdish ANHA news agency said the 800 women and children consisted of 217 families adding that they were all civilians.

The departure from the camp came a day after Kurdish authorities handed over to a Norwegian envoy five children of IS members who were killed in Syria. The five orphans are expected to be taken back home.

“We now look forward to bringing the five children back to Norway and we will forever remember the assistance provided by the local authorities,” Norwegian Foreign Ministry official Kristen Netland told reporters in northeastern Syria.

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