In the Roj camp for the families and families of the militants of the terrorist organization “ISIS” in northeastern Syria, women and mothers, under tents engraved with the logo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, narrate the details of their daily lives while waiting for their fate to be determined. here; No sense of time. Evening falls as day. Years ago, the hands of the clock stopped for the camp residents, who live with heavy memories and bitterly relive the pictures of the past.
The story of their coming to Syria is similar to the point of congruence. After the couples decided to join the ranks of the extremist organization, all their family members had to do was join them and bear the consequences. And when comparing the details of the daily lives of women and mothers in the camp with their normal lives in their countries of origin, the answers are quick… There are no similarities.
Roj camp is located in the countryside of the town of Al-Malikiyah (Derik), in Al-Hasakah Governorate. It is inhabited by about 600 families. It includes about 2,500 people, most of whom are women and children, including Iraqi refugees and displaced Syrian women, in addition to foreign families of fighters who were in the ranks of “ISIS” of Western and Arab nationalities.
Asharq Al-Awsat visited this heavily guarded camp and held exclusive interviews with a Moroccan, an Egyptian, an Uzbek, and an Iraqi. The majority of women who participated in this investigation said that they do not have enough money to meet their basic needs, and complained of difficulty in accessing clean drinking water, as well as poor hygiene and medical care, lack of counseling, lack of education, poor nutrition, and living within closed walls and surveillance cameras.
Moroccan: “We live an animal life”
Moroccan Shorouq, who hails from the city of Tetouan, tells her story of how she lived for 8 years of her life in several Syrian cities that were bombed and destroyed, and ended up living at the mercy of a tent that does not respond to the cold of winter and does not protect her from the flames of summer heat. Today, she is responsible for raising orphaned children after their father was killed, who forced them to come to this hot spot in the Middle East.
At the beginning of her speech, Shurouk said that she is 36 years old, “but I did not decide the fate of my life. I lived the life of my family, then the life of my husband, and I became a widow at this age… Today I live what fate has destined for me.” She stated that she fled the areas controlled by the organization in mid-2017 after her husband was killed, adding, “My husband is the one who chose to join the ranks of the organization, and after his death, we have no connection with the organization left. We fled towards the areas of (SDF) (Syrian Democratic Forces) and went to the camp.”
She pointed out that the most important reason preventing her counterparts from returning to their countries of origin is the presence of children born in Syria of multiple nationalities, adding that “my two children were born in Morocco, and in my case there is no legal conflict and dual nationality due to mixed marriage or having children in Syria. I do not know why Morocco hesitates to take us back, while I am a widow and a mother of orphans?”
And the Moroccan Shurouq continues, “When my psyche is in crisis, the day becomes equal to the night, and the daily routine turns into a waste. Sometimes I prepare breakfast for my children at nine in the morning, and on other days at three in the afternoon, because there is no value for time… In fact, I live burdensome hours. She explained that her tent was 6 meters long and 4 meters wide, and she divided it into three sections.
Wearing a long green abaya and dark headscarf, this woman compared her current kitchen in the camp to her kitchen in the marital home in Morocco. And she added, “There is certainly no comparison. Our lives today are bestial.” She stopped talking for a while, and her eyes welled up with tears when she recalled the details of her kitchen in her country and her normal life. It will never turn into a kitchen. Above your head is plastic, the walls are awnings, the windows are awnings, and the roof is awnings. This is not life until I compare it to my life in Morocco.”
Shorouk, who dreamed of joining the Royal Moroccan Navy at the beginning of her youth, to wear uniforms and cross oceans; Today, her biggest dream is to get rid of camp life and return to her family, saying, “My mother passed away a year ago, and my father has advanced in age, and I don’t know whether I will meet him again or not.”
An Egyptian who lived through two things in Syria
The Egyptian Radwa said that today she is 40 years old, from which she lived a full decade in several Syrian regions and in camps, and she suffered greatly due to the harsh conditions of her life, noting that she was living in the capital, Cairo, and descended from a well-off family, and holds a university degree from the Faculty of Economics, in When her husband was working as an employee in a well-known company.
Radwa considered, at the beginning of her speech, that, like many others like her, she had been deceived. There was no regular life, schools, and no state or entity to be associated with… (ISIS) was a hoax and a big bubble,” referring to the Syrian areas that were previously under the control of the organization before it was defeated in the spring of 2019 by the US-led international coalition forces. and the Syrian Democratic Forces.
This lady is the mother of three children. Her eldest daughter is 17 years old, and her two sons are 14 and 10 years old. As for her husband, he has been detained in the prisons of the “Qasd Forces” (Syrian Democratic Forces) since the family fled from “ISIS” areas at the beginning of 2017.
Radwa’s biggest dream today is “freedom, movement, and travel.” She describes her situation in the camp as being “detained” on charges of association with the organization, and she fears being pursued wherever she goes. She expressed her fears of not being able to return to her country, saying, “I fear this charge when I return to Egypt or travel to a second country; Because this characteristic will continue to haunt me.
She explained that she has been living in this camp for 6 years, but she does not know what her fate will be in the future, adding, “If any party comes and runs tests to examine the degree of our connection to the organization, and are you still extremist or not? To put me under surveillance to see if I am really (ISIS) or not? Then they will keep me here.”
As the hours and months pass languishingly for this Egyptian woman, Radwa says that the most difficult challenge she is going through is her lack of freedom, and they are also forbidden to possess a mobile phone or a laptop. And she added, “There is food, a market, and a place for education, but we want freedom. I want my children to go to university and complete their studies. (I want us to) go to a club to let loose… We go out with our freedom… Here there are no public parks to visit.’
Radwa does not hide that the biggest deception was from her husband, who persuaded her to travel to Turkey under the pretext of obtaining a work contract in a company, and after their arrival at the Syrian border, he surprised her by his desire to enter Syria to live in areas that were previously under the control of ISIS. She said, “He put me in front of the fait accompli, and I was under the illusion that we would live under an alleged Islamic caliphate, but we were shocked by everything… Retribution, killing, and greater blackness everywhere.”
Girls doing hairdressing
A 19-year-old Uzbek girl named Taqi tells how her family traveled in mid-2015 from her hometown in the capital, Tashkent, and covered a distance of 3,500 kilometers, heading towards the Turkish city of Istanbul, then they continued their journey by land on board a modern transport bus, heading to the Turkish border city of Sanliurfa with Syria. To cross secretly through the port of the border town of Tal Abyad on the Syrian side, which was then under the grip of “ISIS”, heading to the city of Raqqa in northern Syria, which is their intended destination after a seven-day journey.
At that time, Raqqa was the most prominent urban city subject to the organization, and the Uzbek family hoped to live in the shadow of the alleged “ISIS state”, after promises to pay travel expenses, airline tickets, and obtain leadership positions and high salaries.
This girl lived nearly half of her life in a war-torn country, and today she lives with her mother, 4 of her sisters, and 2 brothers in this camp, while her father is being held by the “Qasd” forces.
Firmly, persistently, and with her mother’s approval, Taqi is now attending a hairdressing course to learn the profession of a “hairdresser”. “I dreamed at the beginning of my childhood that I would become a surgeon in the future,” she says. Today, after leaving the camp, I will go back to school. (Waiting for that to happen) I decided to take the course (hairdressing) and it changed my status. Even my mother is relieved of that.”
As for her 21-year-old Iraqi friend Heba, who hails from the city of Mosul, which became famous after the terrorist “ISIS” took control of her at the beginning of announcing his alleged caliphate in the summer of 2014, her father forced her to marry a Moroccan fighter when she was 11 years old. After a forced marriage for several years; Her husband was captured in Iraq and Baghdad handed him over to the Moroccan government, she said. As for her, she traveled with her younger brother, who was also in the ranks of the organization, towards Syria, after the retreat of the “ISIS” areas in Iraq. After her brother was killed, she went to Roj camp, where she has been living for 7 years. Like her Uzbek friend, she decided to learn the profession of a hairdresser, as she beautifies and combs the hair of her friends in the camp.
These two girls, along with dozens of other girls in Roj camp, are trained to beauticians and hairdressers for women. Second manual professions such as nursing, barbering, repairing electronic devices and tools are also taught in order to gain practical life experiences and fill spare time.
Warnings from camp children
Two prominent officials in the “Autonomous Administration” of northern and eastern Syria say: The response of countries that have nationals in the Al-Hol and Roj camps is very slow. It is not commensurate with the size and seriousness of keeping the file of the children of ISIS members and militants living in the current detention environments. He stressed that the dismantling of the camps takes years and perhaps decades, pointing out that those in charge of al-Hol camp in al-Hasakah have repeatedly warned of an increase in violence, which has reached unprecedented levels after more than 150 murders were recorded in this camp alone, knowing that it shelters thousands. The displaced, and only some of them are from ISIS families.
Sheikhmous Ahmed, head of the Office of Displaced and Refugee Affairs, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the file of the Roj and Al-Hol camps has turned into an international dilemma that concerns the international community par excellence, in addition to the governments of the concerned countries. He adds, “There are countries and governments that refuse to take back their nationals and citizens who joined the ranks of the organization, who fought in its ranks and lived in its areas. During our meetings, they disclosed to us that they had concerns about their national security and the rejection of their societies (accepting the return of ISIS supporters).
Ahmed refers to the international community’s failure to deal with the children’s file, which is considered the most sensitive file given the birth of a number of them of dual nationalities, the killing of fathers and the survival of mothers in camps. He says, “(This file) carries with it risks that are exacerbating every day. Because the international community’s neglect of these children in the camps is very dangerous.” He adds that leaving the children growing up year after year within the borders of the camps “means that after completing the legal age (less than 17 years) they will automatically be transferred to the detention centers of the organization’s fighters, which will mean that the problem will exacerbate and that it will remain without radical solutions.”
As for lawyer Khaled Ibrahim, a member of the administrative body in the Department of External Relations of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, he saw that the presence of these large numbers, imbued with extremist “ISIS” ideology, in the camps and detention centers of the administration, “poses a great danger to the region and the world as a whole… as They constitute a burden on the management institutions in terms of security, economic, military and even human rights ».
The Kurdish official said that he had participated in repatriating 1,000 children and 400 women to their homes over the past three years, adding that “there are more than 55 nationalities of different countries in the Roj and al-Hol camps, and nearly 60,000 residents, most of whom are women and children.” He added that despite the Autonomous Administration’s appeals to the countries of the international community to return their nationals to their homelands, “a few countries have responded and recovered their nationals from orphaned children and humanitarian cases,” but this did not include adult women and men for “security and societal reasons.”
Ibrahim called on the international community to provide financial and security assistance to the Autonomous Administration in order to rehabilitate ISIS children and protect the fighters’ detention centers. “Returning these people to their home countries could take years, up to another twenty years,” he said. He warned of the future of children who grow up in these camps, “because they live in radical and extremist environments in large numbers and are constantly increasing outside the framework of marriage or the family.”