Families of IS fighters in Syria hope Turkish offensive offers way out

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By Anelise Borges
Families of IS fighters in Syria hope Turkish offensive offers way out

In the Syrian desert, three refugee camps currently hold thousands of people with either proved or suspected associations with the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Now Turkey has started its military incursion in northern Syria, things are growing increasingly tense in Al Hawl, Al Roj and Ein Issa camps.

Since the fall of IS' last stronghold in Syria, some 10,000 fighters were placed in Kurdish-run makeshift prisons.

Their families reside in internment camps that are now bigger than the nearby towns after which they were named.

Al Hawl is the largest, currently holding over 70,000 people — mostly women and children from over 50 different countries — including hundreds of European nationals.

We are treated like animals. And still, a dog in France lives better than us.

The Turkish offensive has started to affect living conditions for those detained in the camp, with drinking water distribution disrupted and some supplies running low, a French national, M, who has been in Al Hawl for the past six months told Euronews correspondent Anelise Borges.

"Things are starting to get difficult," she said. "There is no water in Al-Hasakah (the closest town) where a water processing facility was bombed. When you’re in a camp in the middle of the desert, a day without water is a catastrophe."

M, who is in Al Hawl with her 8-month-old child, said she is angry: "We are treated like animals. And still, a dog in France lives better than us."

M is a detainee in the Al Hawl camp.

This anger is shared by other detainees who, according to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that control the camps, have grown increasingly violent, setting fire to tents and attacking administrative and security officers with sticks and stones.

Camp officials have also said some detainees have attempted to escape.

A video published on the SDF’s Coordination and Military Ops Center twitter account purports to show footage of dozens of burqa-clad women running from guards — the organisation claims they are trying to flee Al Hawl.

We have children — they didn’t commit any crimes.

Meanwhile, in Al Roj, the smallest of the three camps where just under 2,000 women and children are held (including former British schoolgirl turned IS bride Shamima Begum), the situation is eerily calm despite the Turkish military incursion, according to the detainees.

"We have no information whatsoever, the guards lie to us saying that nothing is happening," R, a German national who has spent the last two years in the camps after leaving for Syria six years ago told Euronews.

She added detainees are following reports about Turkey’s military operation online and on social media and are scared for what might happen to them if the fighting gets any closer.

Those in the camps do, however, remain hopeful things can change for the better, R said.

Detainees said they have heard planes and drones flying overhead, adding everyone in the camps is on edge for different reasons.

Guards fear the approach of Turkish troops, while detainees hope they arrive as soon as possible — they believe Turkey will repatriate them back to their countries of origin and "give them a second chance".

“I said many times I regret what I did, I made a mistake. I hope that with Turkey we can go back and face the courts and have a chance to speak. We want to go back to our families,” R said.

Read more about the detainees' stories in Euronews' exclusive documentary "Europe’s Children of ISIS"

I'm tired. In the end, even if I am repatriated I will go jail... what a glorious future is waiting for me.

There’s no doubt that Turkey’s military incursion into Syria has shifted the pieces in the complex puzzle that is the 8-year conflict, but the mood is different in the camps.

In Al Roj, there’s anticipation, excitement even, among detainees. R said they are getting ready for what they believe is the beginning of the end of their nightmare: “Women are preparing for the journey, they are packing their bags, they are packing snacks and drinks… and hoping to come home soon.”

In Al Hawl, on the other hand, M is not as optimistic: "Obviously they will not repatriate us now it is impossible! It had to be done before!"

"It’s clear that the French government does not want us. They should have killed us all in Baghouz, that way we would not be a burden for anyone," she said.

“I'm tired. In the end, even if I am repatriated I will go jail... what a glorious future is waiting for me."

Read more:

Exclusive: 'France doesn't want us' — Europeans who joined ISIS face Iraqi justice

Europe’s problem with jihad: The foreign fighters who tore families apart

Exclusive: Euronews speaks to European children of IS being held in Syrian camps

Exclusive: Europe's children of the so-called Islamic State

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