Women at al-Hawl camp are prone to extortion by jailers of Kurdish-led “Autonomous Administration” 

A female resident of al-Hawl camp, east of Hasakah, faces a camp guard - 2019 (AFP)

A female resident of al-Hawl camp, east of Hasakah, faces a camp guard - 2019 (AFP)


Raqqa- Abdul Aziz al-Saleh

“Um Osama” did not know that she would fall victim to blackmail and fraud when she called a phone number attached to her husband’s name. She saw nothing by the camp’s dust before getting the number. And after she paid 8,500 US dollars to leave the camp, she had nothing left but the dust. 

In a torn tent, Um Osama lives with her four children, the elder is aged six years old, while the youngest is only two years. This middle-aged lady did not imagine that one day she would end up from being in al-Ramadi in Iraq to al-Hasakah’s desert, alone without anyone or any breadwinner, having no idea in which prison her husband is being held and how long he will stay there. 

Enab Baladi spoke with some women who are living in al-Hawl camp in al-Hasakah countryside, northeastern Syria, they mentioned getting blackmailed and scammed by the guards of the camp and prisons which hold men suspected of being affiliated with the so-called Islamic State group and their families. 

These women asked not to reveal their real identities for security reasons, while Enab Baladi tried to reach the camp’s administration to get an answer, but there was no response. 

Escaping from death to another

  “Um Osama” lived a quiet life with her husband, her mother in law, and their children, before the so-called “Islamic State” painted their life with black. 

Her husband worked in construction, he used to work from morning till evening, and he had no interests and hobbies until 2015 when ISIS forces started to capture the western cities in Iraq. 

The acts and massacres made by ISIS forces shocked and terrified the whole world, which led to an international alliance against it to fight it in collaboration with local forces in both Iraq and Syria. 

Some video records show extreme soldiers who belong to Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, killing people according to their identity, which made “Um Osama” and her family move through the areas under ISIS control until they reached al-Baghuz, the last stronghold of ISIS. 

On “Euphrates” banks, thousands were besieged in the last battle, which ended with the announcement of eliminating ISIS forces in Syria in March 2019. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gathered women and children in camps, while they took men and boys to different prisons, waiting for an investigation and court sessions on their role in ISIS forces or “caliphates shadow.” 

“Um Osama” denied that her husband fought with ISIS forces. She added that she found his name in lists published on social media attached to phone numbers to get information about prisoners. She called the number and got all the information that verifies his identity, but the person she called has offered her further information. 

“He told me if I did not help my husband by paying him ten thousand US dollars, he would be transferred to Iraq,” Um Osama said.

However, after many hardships and requests for help, she was only to collect 8,500 US dollars, which she gave to a middleman, and she received nothing after that, not even a phone call. 

On the other hand, the “Human Rights Watch” organization criticized the Iraqi courts, which specialized with ISIS suspects, due to their large number of executions without any concrete evidence or fair investigation that proves any crime on suspects. 

A “scam” by the “liberators” 

The Kurdish-led “Autonomous Administration” or (Rojava), which controls northeastern Syria, did not ask for taking responsibility of guarding ISIS forces or patronizing their families, but their demands and requests to bring European ISIS fighters and supporters back home fell on deaf ears. 

“Um Osama” mentioned many kinds of scam, which women are experiencing inside the refugee camp, such as asking for money in order to improve the condition of prisoners; otherwise, they will get tortured. Another kind of scam is happening, according to “Um Hasan,” a woman in her forties from Raqqa when the guards are taking money from women in order to let them leave the camp and go back to their homes.

“Our relatives outside the camp are not sending any more money due to the large number of scams made by the members of the Kurdish Intelligence, because they think they have the right to take our money after they got rid of “ISIS.” 

“Um Hasan”s husband was killed in al-Baghuz, leaving her with their three children in the camp, until she learned that she could leave the camp if she paid one thousand US dollars to the guards. 

This kind of operations does not work out all the time, “Um Hasan” with other women gave an officer in the camp two thousand US dollars for each family to let them leave the camp. Still, he denied receiving any money from them, and she could have never left the camp with many other women without the pressure exerted by local clans in Raqqa. 

Al-Hawl camp was established in the mid-1990s in order to host five thousand Iraqi refugees, and it was reopened in mid-April 2016 by the Kurdish-led “Autonomous Administration” (Rojava), while it was capable of hosting only 41 thousand, it contained 73 thousand people. Right now it hosts more than 65 thousand, 94% of them are women and children. 


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