As ISIS makes its last stand in the Syrian village of Baghouz, thousands of women and children have been pouring into the al-Hawl refugee camp in the northern part of the country. Among the refugees are wives of ISIS fighters who, according to the Guardian, have taken it upon themselves to enforce strict caliphate rules.
“In recent days, many woman said they only left because the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ordered them to do so to make it easier for the men to fight,” the Guardian reports, adding that “senior-ranked wives” have been stealing from and beating other women who take off their niqabs. When a leaking gas canister sparked a fire, rumors began to spread that an ISIS sleeper cell had deliberately set the fire in order to free the refugees.
Though some women in the camp continue to express allegiance to the militant group, others are eager to leave that world behind. Shamima Begum, a British teenager who infamously ran away to marry Islamic State fighter and has since expressed a desire to return home, was among the ISIS wives in al-Hawl. She was recently forced to move with her newborn after being threatened, reportedly because she had not been properly veiled and had been showing her face in TV interviews.
But tensions between the women of ISIS represent only a fraction of the disorder that has been occurring within the camp, which is drastically ill-equipped to deal with the influx of people. Refugees are being forced to sleep outside due to lack of space, and sanitary conditions are abysmal. Children have been fleeing without their parents, adding to the chaotic scene. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says that 80 people, two-thirds of them under the age of one, have died since a surge of around 40,000 refugees began streaming into the camp.
“This is an extremely vulnerable population,” says Paul Donohoe, an IRC spokesperson, according to the Guardian. “They’ve been without medical care and adequate food and water in some cases for weeks, which is contributing to why so many are dying on arrival. There’s also an astonishing number of pregnant women. Some have been giving birth on the trucks that bring them to Hawl.”
“The lack of preparation for what comes after ISIS is shocking,” adds Nadim Houry, director of Human Rights Watch’s terrorism and counterterrorism program, as the Guardian reports. “In almost all the areas retaken from Isis, there is not adequate resources to rebuild or protect people on the ground.”
Read more at the Guardian.