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06/13/2023 Iraq (International Christian Concern)Iraq urged other countries to repatriate their citizens from the al-Hol refugee camp within former ISIS territory in northeastern Syria. During a conference in Baghdad, Iraqi officials, the UN representative to Iraq, and representatives from the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS discussed the issues persisting at al-Hol.

The call comes after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called upon the international community to take an active role in repatriating ISIS fighters who remain in prisons and camps in northeast Syria during a gathering in Riyadh last week. 

The camp holds more than 50,000 people, the vast majority of which are Iraqi and Syrian women and children of ISIS militants; around 8,000 people live in a part of the camp known as the Annex, which holds primarily women and children from 60 other nationalities who are considered the most ardent ISIS supporters. 

In the wake of the U.S. campaign in Iraq during the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), the Salafi-jihadist group known today as ISIS emerged from Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), a branch of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida (AQ). By 2014, ISIS had captured large swaths of territory throughout Iraq and Syria and gained international recognition via terrorist attacks in the West. The brutal rule of ISIS within its territory and the subsequent reconquest led by the global coalition and other local forces devastated Iraq and Syria, causing a refugee crisis with serious regional impact. Participants at the recent conference in Baghdad raised concerns that the al-Hol refugee camp may become a breeding ground for future ISIS militants if the issue of repatriation is not addressed. 

This comes amid a volatile time in Iraq, especially for Iraqi Christians, as International Christian Concern (ICC) reported on the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led Iraq War in April. The Christian community in Iraq still faces great hardship in the fallout of the 2017-2019 campaign against ISIS. ICC has also reported on the growing exodus of Christians from Iraq that has reduced the once-vibrant Syriac church to ruins—from almost 1.5 million before 2003 to approximately 150,000 today. 

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