Kurdish-led authority releases dozen of Syrians from IS Camp

BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish-led authorities Monday released dozens of Syrian families from one of the largest camps in northeastern Syria holding tens of thousands of women and children, many of them linked to the Islamic State group.

The release of 120 families comes a month after senior Kurdish officials said all 25,000 Syrian nationals in the sprawling al-Hol camp will be allowed to leave as part of a general amnesty to ease pressure on authorities maintaining the camp.

The release, announced through the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council, is voluntary. Unlike previous releases it doesn’t require sponsorship agreements with local Arab tribes to which those detained belong. Only identification papers are needed, according to the SDC.

The camp is also home to about 30,000 Iraqis, most of them children, and 10,000 additional foreign nationals.

The camp’s population mushroomed after Kurdish-led forces transported families of IS fighters and supporters of the group who had remained holed up in the last territories IS held in Syria. The military campaign ended in March 2019, with thousands transferred to the camp, including many foreigners.

Those released Monday are from Deir el-Zor province, a majority Arab province that has seen protests against the Kurdish-led administration. The Rojava Information Center, a media group that covers Kurdish-administered territories, said 17,000 of the 25,000 Syrians in the camp are children.

Sheikmous Ahmed, a Kurdish administration official in charge of displaced, said the Monday release is the first in a series.

Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish official, said last month that running the camp has become a financial and security burden on the Kurdish-led administration. She said foreign nationals would be returned to their countries of origin through separate deals.

The Kurdish-led administration has called on Western countries to take back their nationals, but very few have been repatriated, mostly children, sometimes with their mothers. Conditions in the sprawling camp are dire, with poor hygiene and lack of security.

Ahmed said no Syrians will be forced to leave the camp, particularly those who have security concerns about returning to their hometowns. Parts of Deir el-Zor are controlled by Syrian government troops, while Islamic State militants still operate sleeper cells in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

Kurdish-run prisons also house thousands of suspected IS militants, including some 2,000 foreigners. Some have been released in an amnesty also in recent weeks.