ISIS has long been out of international media headlines, but sprawling refugee camps full of what are said to be Islamic State families and sympathizers remain in eastern Syria.
Days ago the United Nations issued an alarming report detailing that the some 70,000 mostly women, children, and elderly connected to ISIS at the al-Hol and Roj camps remain in “very dire conditions”.
The UN counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov announced late last week that 700 people “recently” died in the two camps, according to information his office had received.
Al-Hol and Roj are essentially massive open-air prison camps in the desert, administered by Syrian Kurdish forces backed by the United States.
Voronkov underscored that driving the high fatality rate are “lack of medicine, lack of food” – and though there have been recent reports that coronavirus may be in the camps, it’s unclear the extent to which COVID-19 is a factor.
A UN team was reported to have entered the largest of the two camps, al-Hol, earlier this month. The populations there are in a legal limbo of sorts, and their fate uncertain.
From a counterterrorism point of view, the UN office warned the camps post a “huge problem” as they remain “very dangerous” for the prospect of a renewed Islamic State terror campaign.
Voronkov warned: “they could create very explosive materials that could be very helpful for terrorists to restart their activities” in Syria and Iraq.
In the past weeks hundreds of ISIS sympathizers in the camps were reported to have escaped.