Defense attachés from several Coalition countries and representatives from unified action partners, discussed issues related to the repatriation and reintegration of displaced persons in northeastern Syria and Iraq as well as the challenges related to ISIS members contained in detention facilities in north east Syria during a forum hosted by Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve July 19, 2022, at the Italian Embassy in Iraq.
“It is apparent that political will has grown and there is a greater focus on addressing the longer term-threats of ISIS, but no single group of people, agency, government or organization has all the answers,” said British Army Brig. Karl Harris, the deputy commanding general of CJTF-OIR. “The exchange of ideas and understanding, while building relationships, and the exchange of knowledge is the most precious commodity for what we are trying to do.”
In addition to receiving an update about OIR’s advise, assist and enable activities with partner forces, the defense attachés and interagency guests were invited to participate in an assessment of and discussion about the security challenges posed by and possible Coalition actions to help address the large numbers of ISIS members in detention facilities as well as the tens of thousands of displaced persons living in Iraq and North East Syria.
The event opened with Harris giving an update on the strategic and operational implications of Iraq's current political situation and the war in Ukraine; information about advancements in partner force capabilities; the OIR perspective on the need for continued repatriation and reintegration of IDPs; and ongoing efforts in support of partner forces in thwarting the resurgence of ISIS. Harris also spoke about OIR’s strong partnership with NATO Mission Iraq and the two organizations’ complementary efforts.
“What is also very positive – and, this is particularly new and an area of close development – is the close work between the Iraqi Security Forces and the Coalition-aligned security forces in northeast Syria, to work in partnership to try and improve their intelligence understanding of the IDP camps and detention facilities so they can help the Iraqi government accelerate and speed up repatriation of their citizens in displaced person camps and also their citizens in detention.” Harris said. “Along many metrics there are improvements.”
Following Harris, French Air Force Brig. Gen. Vincent Coste, director of CJTF-OIR’s Directorate of Interagency and Civil Environment, provided an in-depth update on the need for repatriation and reintegration of IDPs as well as the challenges of keeping ISIS members in detention.
Coste highlighted the Government of Iraq’s promising program for repatriating its citizens from north east Syria and noted the program as an example of progress and a key part of the solution, encouraging other countries to follow suit. Despite the Iraqi program’s success and promise for continued benefit, he noted that challenges remain due to the sheer number of displaced persons living in camps throughout north east Syria and the growing security challenges within the camps, which make the people living there susceptible to ISIS influence.
“The lack of resources like food, water and security increase the risk of the ISIS influence,” Coste said. “My biggest concern is the children in these IDP camps. There are 36,000 children in the al-Hol camp who are exposed daily to violence, insecurity and dangerous ISIS ideology.”
Coste explained the difference in quality of life from IDP camps like al-Hol and Iraq’s Jeddah rehabilitation centers.
“When you see the kids in Jeddah camp, you see totally different kids from the ones in al-Hol camp. They are smiling, they are playing and they are totally different,” Coste said. “Reintegration centers like Jeddah 1 are part of the solution. At Jeddah, the children are out of the very difficult environment of al-Hol–they have access to education, to recreation, and they are removed from the negative influence of ISIS.”
Through repatriation and reintegration programs, these children gain access to education, recreation, and health care, Coste explained. Programs like the Iraqi government’s Jeddah rehabilitation centers, can help give these children a chance at a normal life and the opportunity to become productive members of society, he explained. But, children grow quickly, and they are vulnerable, he emphasized, so urgent action is needed.
Not all displaced persons in northeastern Syria and Iraq live in these DP camps, however. Monique Maani, the head of field coordination for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Baghdad, added context to the situation by providing an update on the issue of Iraqi citizens displaced internally in Iraq as a result of ISIS terror.
Missing civil documentation, special needs and protection for those who face social cohesion issues are priorities for humanitarians working to help internally displaced Iraqis, she said.
Giorgi Gigauri, the chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration, also provided his organization’s perspective on the issue of displaced persons and emphasized the need for durable solutions for internally displaced persons. Gigauri gave an overview of the different mechanisms and programs the IOM has in place to help create this durable solution for DPs.
“Our framework complements the Government of Iraq’s national plan.” Giguari said. “We want to bring together the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and other actors working on humanitarian, development, stabilization and peacebuilding activities.”
Gigauri further spoke about how IOM organized a series of four conferences to discuss international best practices on key topics related to al-Hol. The discussions focused on security screening, risk and needs assessment, rehabilitation and reintegration of adults and minors, and the roadmap moving forward. He also highlighted how the IOM conducts post-return monitoring of households leaving Jeddah with assistance from local authorities.
Harris closed the event by thanking all the defense attachés and the interagency partner representatives for their attendance. He also thanked Coste for his direction and guidance for the DICE during his tenure.
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