Exclusive - 7,000 ‘Stateless’ Children Stuck in Syria Camp after Repatriation is Rejected
In an isolated room in the al-Hol displacement camp, some 45 kilometers east of al-Hasakeh city, a Dutch, a German and Frenchwoman sat waiting for the administrative authorities to grant them permission to visit their children in hospital. Each of them had given birth to a child no more than a year ago. They join more than 3,500 children whose births have not been recorded in Syria or in their father’s home countries because they were members of the ISIS terrorist group. These women and others have gone down a dark path by marrying ISIS members and who now find themselves in this isolated part of Syria awaiting an unknown fate.
Asharq Al-Awsat sat with these women, who were clad in head to toe black, with nothing but their curious eyes unconcealed. They had traveled thousands of miles to achieve a dream, which turned out to be an illusion. They now angrily ponder their fate.
Al-Hol camp houses more than 72,000 people, most of whom hail from Syria and Iraq. They include 10,732 women who had immigrated here with their children. Some 3,177 women are mothers to 3,500 stateless children, whose ages range between one month to six years old. Add to that, 4,055 foreign immigrant children, who do not have identification cards or passports and whose parents come from 50 western and Arab countries.
Their fathers are members of ISIS who died on battlefronts or surrendered during the battle for Baghouz, the last stronghold of the group in Syria that fell in Syrian Democratic Forces hands in March. The surrendered members are now detained and lying behind bars as they await their fate after their home countries rejected their return despite demands by the local Kurdish authorities and their American allies.
Amalia, 21, a Dutch mother of a 15-month old child, whom she fathered with a Moroccan member of ISIS, is now pregnant with the child of a Syrian fighter, who is detained by the SDF. She told Asharq Al-Awsat that she was in a relationship with her Moroccan neighbor in the Netherlands. He traveled to Syria in 2013 to fight for ISIS and asked that she join him. Without hesitation, she joined him in early 2014.
She said that she never told anyone of her plans and did not contact the Dutch authorities. Everything changed once she became a mother, she added, saying that she had “wronged” her family.
Her Moroccan husband was killed in the battle for Raqqa in October 2017. He left behind a child with neither nationality nor ID.
She spoke of her fear that her unborn child would come to the world with no identification documents.
“The conditions here are very bad and our fate is unknown,” she lamented.
Back in July, Fabrizio Carboni, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Near and Middle East operations, said around 100,000 people in al-Hol and surrounding camps "are kept in a kind of legal limbo in an unstable place, in a disputed area.”
"One hundred thousand people who spent the last months, if not years, under the bombs, starved, wounded, sick, traumatized," he said, adding: "It is just apocalyptic."
The Red Cross is one of the main humanitarian organizations providing assistance inside the overfilled al-Hol camp, which is housing more than 70,000 people, including more than 11,000 family members of suspected ISIS fighters from dozens of countries.
Rebecca, 30, a German woman, said she came to Syria in the summer of 2015. She married a German ISIS member. He was killed a year after they got married. She has since married a Russian fighter.
She told Asharq Al-Awsat that she no longer had enough money to support herself. Contacts with her family back in Germany were impossible.
“When will we get out of here? My situation is getting worse everyday,” she stressed.
Germany and the majority of western countries refuse to repatriate their nationals who are living and detained in the al-Hol camp.
Rebecca is mother to a four-and-half-year old born from her German husband. The second is ten months old and was born in Baghouz to her current Russian partner, who went missing during the battle to capture the city. His fate remains unknown.
“Have I become such a burden to my government that it refuses to take me back? What have I done?” she wondered. “I have been at home all of this time. I have not committed a crime. I was deceived like all the others.”
The Frenchwoman, 25, still holds on to the delusion that she helped the women of Syria and their children against the oppression of the ruling regime. She spent six years in Syria. She fathered a child with a French fighter. They were both killed in the battle for Raqqa. She then married a Moroccan and gave birth to a girl, 3, and a boy, around 1. The husband was killed in the Baghouz fighting and the Frenchwoman is pregnant with his third child.
“I did not realize the difficulties in documenting and verifying the birth of my children. We were living in war and now we live under a tent,” she recounted.
Compounding their affairs is the lack of consulates in areas under SDF control in Syria.
The women fear that their husbands will be repatriated and separated from them and their children.
Even more complicated is the case of 300 orphaned children whose parents were killed in the fighting. They are caught between the UNHCR and UNICEF’s refusal to take them in and their al-Hol administrators’ refusal to grant them identification documents.