AL-HOL, SYRIA/WASHINGTON – Iraqi refugees at the al-Hol camp in northeast Syria are voicing concerns about the growing violence inside the camp, which hosts thousands of people, including families of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters.
Over the weekend, an Iraqi refugee was killed, and three others were seriously injured in an attack by a suspected IS cell, bringing the number of those killed inside the camp to 25 since mid-April.
Al-Hol is home to nearly 62,000 people, including about 30,000 Iraqi refugees.
“Our situation is getting worse because of these assassinations,” said Um Abdulla, an Iraqi refugee who lives at the camp.
“Honestly, if we went back to Iraq and stayed at another refugee camp, it would still be better than this place,” she told VOA.
In March, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) carried out a major security operation to curb attacks claimed by IS cells inside the camp. More than 125 suspected IS operatives were arrested in the campaign.
But camp residents say there has been a new surge in violence in recent weeks at al-Hol.
Despite its territorial defeat in March 2019, IS remains active throughout eastern Syria, carrying out attacks through its sleeper cells.
Rakan Mohammed, another Iraqi refugee at al-Hol, said he thinks IS militants outside the camp coordinate with their followers inside the camp to conduct these attacks.
“Killing has become a daily occurrence here. Almost every day, they kill one or two people at the camp,” he said.
An SDF official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about security matters, told VOA that if the violence at al-Hol continues to rise, the SDF could conduct another security operation similar to one conducted in March.
Camp officials say the attackers mostly use knives and silencer weapons when targeting their victims.
Most of the attacks have taken place during the night when there is less presence by security forces, camp residents say.
“We can’t wait for the night to be over, because at night, you never know who would enter your tent,” Abu Ahmed, an Iraqi refugee, told VOA.
In May, the Iraqi government repatriated 93 families — more than 380 people — from al-Hol. Iraq reportedly has agreed to take back 500 Iraqi families from the Syrian camp.