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  • Aid groups say the politicization of humanitarian issues is the result of growing nationalism in the west
  • At least 60,000 relatives of Daesh militants – many of them women and children – fled into Al-Roj and Al-Hawl camps to escape the intensified fighting

DUBAI: As the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched their final battle against Daesh last month, thousands of families in eastern Syria were evacuated to displacement camps that double up as detention centers.

At least 60,000 relatives of Daesh militants – many of them women and children – fled into Al-Roj and Al-Hawl camps to escape the intensified fighting near the Iraqi border in Baghouz.

The problem exists alongside the longstanding issue of refugees who have fled Syria since the war began in 2015.

Of the pre-war population of 22m, there are now thought to be as many as 13.1m needing humanitarian aid, 5.6m have fled the country and 6.2m are internally displaced.

With such vast numbers of people in need, those who joined Daesh are not seen as a priority.

With the demise of the so-called “caliphate,” the remnants of Daesh sent to the displacement camps face an uncertain future.

Civilians evacuated from Daesh’s embattled holdout of Baghouz wait at a screening area held by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). (Bulent Kilic/AFP)

This crisis has become an international dilemma, as western governments debate the fate of Daesh brides who want to return to their home countries.

The United Kingdom’s government revoked the citizenship of three British women who left the UK to join the militant group in Syria.

Reema Iqbal, 30, and her sister Zara, 28, left London for Syria in 2013, and between them now have five boys under the age of eight. Shamima Begum – whose baby recently died in a camp – left the UK in 2015 when she was 15.

Begum’s family has urged the British government to reconsider the decision as an “act of mercy.”

The family of Shamima Begum have asked for their daughter to be allowed back in the UK as an "act of mercy". (File/AFP)

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has vowed to deny entry to Hoda Muthana who also left the United States to join Daesh in 2015.

Muthana’s father is suing the US government to have it recognize her as a citizen and to return her to the country.

France is also debating whether to allow two French women to return to the country after leaving to join the militant group.

The women are saying they hope to be judged fairly if put on trial as they feared for their children lives in Syria where many have died.

According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), at least 100 other children have died either en route to Al-Hawl, or inside the camp itself.

President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Francesco Rocca, says he disagrees with the decision made by the western governments.

“Whatever a person has done, there are basic needs that must be met and this is something that is not negotiable. It is about human dignity, it is human rights,” Rocca told Arab News during the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) conference.

These actions not only affect the mothers but also their children which is considered a collective punishment, Rocca explained, adding that this was forbidden under international law.

“If there is someone who committed crimes, then they have to be prosecuted. It is up to the legal system to investigate and identify the individuals,” Rocca said.

Concerns continue to be raised over the children who had no choice in the situation. (File/AFP)

Children should not pay the consequences, he said, adding that “they are the most vulnerable.”

United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman, Leonard Doyle, agreed it was up to the courts to decide the outcome for these women and children and not the politicians.

“Politicians sometimes make expedient decisions in the heat of controversy, this happens all the time, and it’s not always right,” Doyle said.

IOM often works with radicalized people and helps to deradicalize them and integrate them back into their own communities, Doyle explained, saying that a radicalized person who wants to go back home and leave their previous actions behind them, should be helped.

“If you just leave it to the populist opinion they will forever complain about terrorists, murders – so it is probably better that these sorts of things are depoliticized so that sensible decisions are made,” Doyle said.

Meanwhile, the SDF has repeatedly called on its western partners to take their citizens back, stressing it does not have the resources to detain them indefinitely.

Aid groups say the politicization of humanitarian issues is the result of growing nationalism in the west.

The IFRC president says that leaving someone stateless is a political statement rather than dealing with the issue.

The rise of populism is making it more difficult to solve issues surrounding migrants, the director general of the IOM, Antonio Vitorino, said during the DIHAD conference discussion on “People on the Move.”

“Certain political actors are using this as a political weapon. It is a political weapon creating fear in the communities for the unknown,” IFRC president, Rocca said, explaining that instead of creating an environment that is able to accept diversity, politicians create fear with their own consensus.

“Unfortunately, too many countries are repelling immigrants by calling human beings illegal – this is something that is dehumanizing the people that are searching for a better future or life,” Rocca said.

In the case of the families of Daesh fighters, Doyle said “we can’t force people back where conflict is continuing or your risk sucking them into it.”

The executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Mario Stephan, said humanitarian aid should only be based on need and nothing else.

Referring to the refugee and migration crisis that faced Europe after the escalation of the Syrian war in 2016, Stephan said “it is very important that we remind everybody that migration is not a crime.”

Rocca said the situation regarding Syria would be a lesson to learn for years to come.

“I hope we will learn from this experience, but I am not so optimistic, because we see too many similar situations,” he said, adding “what is happening in Syria is it repeating in Yemen.”


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