BAGHDAD - Hundreds of Iraqi families returned to their country from the notorious Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria on Wednesday.
The ANHA news agency said that 145 Iraqi families, comprising 853 people left the camp in a convoy of vehicles bound for Iraq amid tight security, following coordination between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who run the camp.
The Al-Hol camp is inhabited by Syrian and Iraqi displaced people and refugees, many of whom are related to IS militants. It also houses relatives of IS militants from European countries. It is notorious for its squalid conditions and outbreaks of violence.
Iraqi authorities began repatriating people from the camp last October.
Iraqi National Security Advisor Qasim Al-Araji told the Iraqi official news agency that the families would be transported to the Jada camp south of the Iraqi city of Mosul, “in the framework of reintegrating them into society”.
He said that Iraq was trying to “dismantle the source fo terrorism and prepare for the closure of the Al-Hol camp… in order to achieve sustainable security for Iraq and the region”.
The camp, which houses approximately 55,000 refugees has been described as a “ticking time bomb” by the United Nations.
Last April UN Special Representative Jeanin Hennis-Plasschaet said that 60% of the camp’s inhabitants are children and that they were “being denied the most basic rights, including education".
She added that they were vulnerable to radicalisation and extremism. Many children have died of starvation and disease in Al-Hol.
Last month, Iraqi Migration Minister Evan Jabro said that there were approximately 8,000 Iraqi families still in the camp.
Iraq has so far sent approximately 603 families to the Jada camp south of Mosul following tight security procedures. At Jada they undergo psychosocial and rehabilitation programmes before returning to their cities and towns of origin.
Western countries have been reluctant to repatriate their citizens at Al-Hol.