Simona Foltyn in Jeddah-1 camp, Iraq
The Iraqi government plans to accelerate the repatriation of its nationals with confirmed or suspected ties to Islamic State (IS) from north-east Syria, in a politically charged process that has ignited a struggle for power and money while highlighting the challenges of reintegrating a partly radicalised population.
After months of deadlock, about 650 civilians, mostly women and children, were transferred last week from Syria’s notorious al-Hawl camp to a closed facility in northern Iraq called Jeddah-1, where they will spend several months before they are allowed to leave. Though they have not committed crimes, many have relatives who joined the terrorist group and have for years been exposed to extremist ideology.
The Guardian gained rare and exclusive access to the Jeddah-1 camp last month and interviewed four families, all of whom have since been released to make space for the new arrivals. While the families voiced relief at leaving Syria, they now live on the margins of society and in fear of reprisals.
Unlike western nations that have resisted taking back individuals who travelled to Syria and Iraq to join IS, the Iraqi government plans to bring back all its nationals and wants more international support.
“Our vision isn’t just to transfer Iraqis. Al-Hawl camp must be closed. It’s a threat to Iraq’s national security. There’s extremism, it’s out of control and there’s no government,” said Saeed al-Jayashi, of Iraq’s National Security Advisory Council, the government agency spearheading the returns.