UN calls Syria's al-Hol refugee camp a 'ticking time bomb'
The United Nations has called for all parties to solve the escalating crises at al-Hol refugee camp in Hasakeh, northern Syria, during a conference in Baghdad on Saturday.
"In al-Hol camp, mere hours from the Iraqi border, nearly 30,000 Iraqis with varying degrees of association to ISIL - including victims of ISIL, and others with no association at all - remain in limbo," said UN Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, using an alternative acronym to Islamic State militant group [IS].
The remarks were made during a roundtable held by the Iraqi government on prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration.
Al-Hol, in the Kurdish-controlled northeast, is Syria's largest camp for displaced people. It houses about 56,000 displaced Syrians and Iraqi refugees, some of whom maintain links with IS.
About 10,000 are foreign nationals, including relatives of jihadists.
"Three out of 5 residents of al-Hol are under 17; one in 5 is under 5 years of age. These innocent children have only ever known this harsh environment; many of them are being denied the most basic rights, including education," said Hennis-Plasschaert.
"These children find themselves at risk of forced recruitment and exposure to violent extremism" she continued, concluding that "a continued status quo is - without a doubt - the riskiest option".
The UN official was, however, complementary of Iraq's decision to resume voluntary returns of its citizens from the camp.
"In fact, in terms of proactively taking steps to fulfil its obligations to repatriate its nationals, Iraq has set an example on the global stage," she said.
According to Hennis-Plasschaert, some 450 families, or nearly 1,800 individuals, have been repatriated since May 2021 - while many countries with far fewer citizens in the camp have elected to ignore the worsening conditions for those living there.
"Let’s face it: al-Hol is a ticking time bomb. If it goes off, it will impact not only the region but also far beyond," said Hennis-Plasschaert.