The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched an operation inside the infamous Al-Hawl refugee camp, with the objective of ending the practice of ‘brutal torture’ inside the camp.
Ali Hassan, spokesperson for the internal security forces of the SDF, told Reuters on 28 August that the operation came in response to violent ISIS cells inside the camp. “We launched the campaign at this time because of the urgent need brought on by the escalation and increase in violent cases by ISIS cells in al-Hawl camp,” he added.
According to Ali Hassan, victims showed signs of “brutal torture,” and were often killed by silenced weapons. Many of the bodies were later found in sewage pipes.
The camp experienced an increase in violence in 2022 after ISIS suspects attempted a jailbreak and took control over parts of the detention facility earlier in January. Many of the perpetrators are likely still roaming free inside the camp.
The main objective of the operation is to “hunt down ISIS cells” operating inside the camp and create a safer environment for refugees who are subjected to torture and death.
The instability inside the camp has also led to the looting of humanitarian aid organizations and limits the access to people in need.
The refugee camp houses approximately 56,000 people, mostly women and children.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) raised awareness about the dire living situation inside the camp in June, describing the camp as “catastrophic” and demanding the creation of a safe space, particularly for women and girls.
The Save the Children NGO warned on 23 March that children related to foreign ISIS fighters could remain in the camp for up to 30 years, unless western countries step up the pace of their repatriation.
“It will take 30 years before foreign children stuck in unsafe camps in northeast Syria can return home if repatriations continue at the current rate,” the UK-based NGO said in their report.
Around 70 percent of the camp’s population is estimated to be younger than 18 years old, with a significant proportion being under 12 years old.