Almost every week brings a new report about the plight of the approximately 13,500 detained ISIS foreign fighters and family members – including thousands of women and children — in al-Hol and other detention centers in northeast Syria. Tens of thousands more in the camps are from Syria or Iraq. The Washington Post recently described the scenes vividly: “The women’s tents are pitched on cracked earth that turns to mud when the rain comes. Latrines overflow, sewage leaks into tents, and wild dogs prowl the perimeter for food” and UNICEF reported that eight children in the camps died – including from malnutrition and dehydration — in a single week in August.
Although a small number of the 60 countries with nationals in those camps have stepped up to repatriate their citizens, many have refused to take them home to face justice and/or reintegrate them back into their communities. A “comprehensive approach to this serious problem” remains elusive, as members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS acknowledged in a communique when they last met (virtually) in June. The intractability of the issue was further underscored last month, when the United States vetoed a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council intended to address the issue; the U.S. cited the measure’s failure to include a specific call for repatriation.