Syrian refugees from al-Hol camp return home to find only destruction

Destroyed buildings in the center of Homs Destroyed buildings in the center of Homs Photo by Goran Safarek on iStock

14 January 2021

Leaving the al-Hol refugee camp, the returnees face a reality of wrecked towns and communities in territory previously controlled by the Islamic State

 Al-Hol is the largest refugee camp in northeastern Syria, hosting nearly 70,000 Syrians and foreigners. The living conditions in the camp are precarious due to overcrowding and  the lack of drinkable water, privacy, decent food, or medications. The refugee camp is one of the most dangerous in the Kurdish-held region, housing both supporters and victims of the Islamic State (ISIS). Internal clashes between the factions pose a serious security threat in al-Hol where, as reported by the Rojava Information Center, seven attacks have been carried out by ISIS-affiliated women in November alone.

In October 2020, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) announced the possibility for around 2,000 refugees to return to their towns, including al-Susah, Baghouz and Raqqa, formerly controlled by ISIS and now under the administration of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However, upon arrival, the returnees found only destruction. Although ISIS was ousted in 2017, most towns in this territory remain inhabitable due to the devastation of war and the presence of unexploded ordnance constituting a threat to everyday life. Additionally, small ISIS cells are still active in the area and continue to perpetrate terrorist attacks. The returnees face serious housing problems, as most houses have been damaged by the war. According to the local tribe leader of Baghouz, 1.400 houses have been destroyed by the conflict. Furthermore, these areas are affected by a severe lack of employment  opportunities. Due to the unstable security situation, some prefer to remain in the al-Hol camp rather than return to their unsafe and affected communities.

To rebuild the towns and reintegrate the refugees into the communities, increased assistance from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or aid agencies is needed. However, many of them have reported difficulties in reaching the area, while others are focusing on other areas, lacking enough resources to extend their work into the region.


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Author: Carla Leonetti; Editor: Francesca Mencuccini and Rosella Fadda

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