UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. counter-terrorism chief on Wednesday urged the repatriation of tens of thousands of women and children suspected of links to the Islamic State extremist group, warning that many are being radicalized in deteriorating detention camps in Syria and Iraq.
Vladimir Voronkov told the U.N. Security Council that nearly two years after the defeat of the militant extremists on the ground “some 27,500 foreign children are still in harms way” in camps in northeastern Syria, including about 8,000 from some 60 countries other than Iraq. He said 90% of them are under age 12.
Tragically, Voronkov said, the international community has made “hardly any progress” in addressing the issue of these children and women even though the “challenges and risks are growing more serious with neglect, and could have a long-term impact not just in the region but globally.”
His call for action was echoed by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, an acting U.S. deputy ambassador who spoke on behalf of President Joe Biden’s new administration. He said Biden is committed to working with the international coalition that the U.S. established in 2014 to rout the Islamic State group from Iraq and Syria, “to ensure this terrorist group is defeated on a lasting and comprehensive basis.”
“We watch with concern as women and children languish in camps in dire conditions with little access to education, increasing the potential for their radicalization,” DeLaurentis said.
He warned that the global threat from Islamic State extremists “will grow if the international community does not repatriate their citizens.”
Voronkov said that “the already dire humanitarian and security situation in the detention facilities and displacement camps is deteriorating even further, especially in Al-Hol camp” in northeastern Syria.
“The most basic of human rights are undermined,” he said. “Many instances of terrorist radicalization, fund-raising training and incitement have been reported.”
According to a report last week from U.N. experts monitoring sanctions against the Islamic State group, there are approximately 65,000 residents in Al-Hol, vastly more than its intended capacity, but the number of guards fell from 1,500 in mid-2019 to 400 in late 2020.
The panel of experts said some 10,000 foreign women and children are in an Al-Hol annex, where some minors “are reportedly being indoctrinated and prepared to become future … operatives” for the Islamic State group.
At another camp in northeastern Syria called Roj, where the conditions are more comfortable but security is “more intrusive and effective,” the panel said the cost of being smuggled out “to a safe destination has been reported at approximately $14,000 compared with between $2,500 and $3,000 from Hol.”
Voronkov told the Security Council that in October the Islamic State group reiterated “that orchestrating jailbreaks and assisting escapees was a priority.”
He commended Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan for bringing home hundreds of children from Syria. He urged other countries, especially in Europe, that have carried out fewer repatriations, to “actively step up their efforts.”
Voronkov also warned that some 10,000 Islamic State fighters, “including foreign terrorist fighters in the low thousands, remain active in the region, the majority of them in Iraq, pursuing a protracted insurgency.”
The panel of experts said an unidentified country estimated in November that there were approximately 11,000 male IS fighters detained in northeastern Syria, including 1,700 from foreign countries, 1,600 Iraqis, 5,000 Syrians and 2,500 “of unknown nationality.” They said 100 male minors were held at the Houri camp.