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More Syrian Nationals Released from al-Hol Camp  

In this Feb. 12, 2020 photo, Malak Saad Dakhel, an 11 year-old Yazidi, is overwhelmed by journalists and well-wishers as her family tries to comfort her after her escape from Syria, in Sharia, Iraq.

Local authorities in northeast Syria have released a new group of Syrian nationals from a detention camp, in an ongoing effort to reduce its population of at least 62,000.

Officials with the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in the region said they released more than 300 Syrian nationals this week from al-Hol Camp, which is also home to thousands of families of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters.

“They can go anywhere they want to go now,” Mounir Mohammad, an al-Hol Camp official, told VOA on Monday. “This step comes after we verified and approved the documents they provided to us.”

According to camp officials, more than 1,500 Syrian families have so far been released.

Most of these Syrians had been captured following a U.S.-led campaign in 2019 that destroyed IS’s so-called caliphate in eastern Syria.

Unlike most of the recent releases, this group’s departure did not require sponsorship from Arab tribal leaders. Instead, local authorities conducted background checks on the targeted individuals to ensure that they wouldn’t pose any security threats.

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More Syrians Released From Al-Hol Camp
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The arrangement comes after local officials expressed concerns over growing violence caused by IS-linked foreign nationals inside the camp. Since the beginning of 2021, about 20 camp residents reportedly have been killed.

In addition to those held in al-Hol and other detention camps in northeast Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a Kurdish-led military alliance, says it holds more than 10,000 IS fighters, including about 2,000 foreign nationals.

SDF officials have been calling on countries to take back their detained citizens, saying that they do not have enough resources to keep IS prisoners and their families indefinitely.

The United Nations has cautioned about the dangerous living conditions in al-Hol and other camps in northeast Syria.

“Thousands of people held in the camps are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation in conditions and treatment that may well amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law, with no effective remedy at their disposal,” the U.N. Human Rights Council said this month.

While many of those released this week expressed joy over their freedom, others weren’t certain about what to expect outside the camp.

“I have a big family and we don’t have a breadwinner,” said Um Mohammad, a woman who was among those released.

“Some of our family members are dead, and others are in prison,” she told VOA.