More Like a Prison Camp: Al Hawl Camp Continues to Hold Tens of Thousands of IDPs in Inhumane Conditions

In Its Latest Report, the United Nations Independent International Commission on Inquiry Holds the PYD-Led Self-Management Responsible for the Unlawful Detention of Thousands of People


Press release:
(Link below to download full report)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights reveals in a report released today that al Hawl Camp is more like a prison camp that continues to hold tens of thousands of IDPs in inhumane conditions, noting that the United Nations Independent International Commission on Inquiry, in Its latest report, holds the PYD-led Self-Management authority responsible for the unlawful detention of thousands of people there.
The 21-page report outlines the stages of the al Hawl Camp establishment and its structure, as well as the most notable waves of displacement that the camp has witnessed since it was reopened in April 2016 up to the current date. In 2016, the number of people living in al Hawl Camp reached nearly 12,000 IDPs and refugees, most of whom came from Deir Ez-Zour and Raqqa governorates, and from the State of Iraq, with their number reaching 18,000 in 2017, mostly from Iraq. As for 2018, although the camp subsequently witnessed a decline in the number of refugees coming from Iraq, the battles that took place between Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS in the latter’s last enclave in Deir Ez-Zour governorate at the end of that year caused waves of displacement in Deir Ez-Zour governorate, with the number of residents in al Hawl Camp reaching 33,000 IDPs and refugee at the beginning of 2019. With the increase of waves of displacement in 2019, the number of camp residents had reached nearly 70,000 IDPs and refugees by the end of that year, most of whom came from the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour and Raqqa. The number of camp residents has now reached 65,000 people as of October 2020.
The report notes that the residents of al Hawl Camp have been exposed to a number of violations of basic human rights, such as the right to life, movement, health, education, and others. As the report reveals, at least 53 civilians, including 25 children and 11 women, have been killed in al Hawl Camp, since it was reopened in April 2016 up until October 28, 2020, of whom Syrian Democratic Forces killed 18, including 14 children, while 35 others, including 11 children and 11 women, were killed at the hands of parties that the report has been unable to identify.
The report provides more details on the inhuman conditions that the camp residents have been exposed to, noting that most of the tents are built using a poor, highly flammable type of plastic, which is also ineffective in protecting residents from the harsh climatic conditions that characterize the region. The resulting fires have resulted in the deaths of at least nine civilians, including four children and one woman, between April 2016 and October 28, 2020.
The report adds that the camp suffers from acute food shortages, inadequate provision of drinking water and sanitation facilities, and lack of medical care. The lack of medical care and food has resulted in the deaths of seven children in al Hawl Camp between April 2016 and October 28, 2020.
The report also notes that there are about twelve educational centers for children of different ages in al Hawl Camp, emphasizing that the number of these centers is very small compared to the amount of children in the camp whose number exceeds forty thousand children, with some being orphans who have lost their father, mother, or both parents.
The report stresses that the conditions in al Hawl Camp constitute a breeding ground for an outbreak of COVID-19, as precautionary measures such as wearing masks and social distancing are also very limited; the camp’s lack of water and sanitation infrastructure is the most dangerous factor contributing to the spread of the pandemic.
The report finds that the Russian veto opposing the renewal of Security Council Resolution No. 2165 has been a major reason for the lack of humanitarian and medical aid in the camp, and is contrary to human rights principles. The report adds that the veto used by Russia and its ally China caused the closure of al Ya’roubiya crossing, which affected the flow of UN aid to the region, with these shortages clearly reflected in the deteriorating humanitarian conditions, especially the food and medical conditions for the residents of al Hawl Camp. The report states that Russia and China bear moral responsibility and responsibility for violating fundamental human rights through this arbitrary veto.
Referring to the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry’s (COI) latest report, the SNHR report confirms that Syrian Democratic Forces prevent camp residents from leaving and returning, or from permanently leaving and returning to their villages and homes in areas where combat operations with ISIS ended many months ago, although combat operations in some of these areas ended nearly two years ago.
The report outlines three basic ways for camp residents to leave it. First, through tribal dignitaries’ mediation with Syrian Democratic Forces, which has contributed to the release of at least 3,000 detainees from al Hawl Camp, with those released coming from the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour, Raqqa and Aleppo; Second, through smuggling or escaping from the camp via smugglers who have relations with the Internal Security forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces, as the detainees’ families pay huge sums of money to both the smugglers and the internal Security forces in exchange for smuggling them using harsh methods, such as hiding detainees inside tanks.
The report adds that the third way for detainees to leave the camp is when some foreign countries request repatriation of their citizens, whose total number exceeds two thousand, mostly women and children.
The report further notes that the human rights and humanitarian reports issued by several United Nations bodies, in particular the recent report by the International Commission of Inquiry, as well as reports by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations, all helped in putting accumulated pressure on the Syrian Democratic Forces’ Self-Management authority, until it issued Decision No. 146 On October 10, which allows Syrians wishing to leave the camp to do so after completing the necessary procedures. However, the report notes that SNHR has seen no large-scale expulsions or release of thousands of detained Syrians, and has documented that the releases have remained limited to the cases arranged via tribal mediation.
The report finds that through these detentions, Syrian Democratic Forces have violated a large number of principles of international human rights law, including arbitrary deprivation of liberty, freedom of movement, the right to education, and the right to health care. Syrian Democratic Forces also failed to give these detainees any opportunity to defend themselves, to know the reasons for their detention, or to challenge them through the opportunity to obtain a fair trial.
The report states that Syrian Democratic Forces have treated entire sectors of the camp, which include hundreds of people allegedly associated with ISIS, worse than others, with this distinction being based entirely on allegations that have not been proven through independent investigations.
The report stresses that donor countries have not provided sufficient support allocated to the UN and international organizations working at the camp, exacerbating the already poor conditions there, emphasizing that the Self-Management authority is not solely responsible for the poor living and medical conditions inside the camp, despite its lack of financial transparency in how the proceeds of the region’s wealth, especially oil and gas, are spent.
The report’s recommendations include calling on the United Nations to increase the humanitarian aid provided to the camp until a solution is found to the detainees issue, and to put pressure on countries whose citizens are detained in the camp in order to expedite their repatriation and ensure that their children obtain their nationality, as stipulated in international law, in order to avoid creating hundreds of stateless persons.
The report recommends that the US-led coalition should put pressure on Syrian Democratic Forces to release thousands of detainees in al Hawl Camp, to release all those who have not been proven guilty of a criminal offense according to a fair trial by a court formed in an impartial and independent manner, and to request that the Self-Management authority prepares financial statements detailing the funds it obtains from the resources of the areas it controls and the mechanisms for their disbursement, and ensure that these statements are made freely available and disseminated for public scrutiny, especially by the residents of that region, and that sufficient funds are allocated to spend on improving living conditions in al Hawl Camp.
The report urges countries worldwide with citizens detained in al Hawl Camp not to repudiate their citizens and to work to repatriate and try them in accordance with the law, and to grant citizenship to children who were born to citizens outside their countries, as well as to increase humanitarian aid to al Hawl Camp, especially medical assistance in light of the second wave of COVID-19.
The report calls on Democratic Union Party-led Self-Management authority to release tens of thousands of detainees in the camp to ensure their return to the areas from which they were displaced, and to stop using discrimination against some sectors of the camp, as well as to prepare financial reports on the amount of money obtained from the wealth of the governorates of Deir Ez-Zour, Hasaka, and Raqqa and publish these for public scrutiny, in addition to allocating funds to improve the harsh conditions of al Hawl Camp.

View full Report

Available In