The SDF are not running 'death camps' in Syria - here's why

by Mohammed Elnaiem   Hawar News  


On 17th August 2017, the official media center of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, propagated a campaign led by Falak Hussein to declare IDP camps for civilians fleeing from Raqqa and Deir-ez-zour as “death camps”. The make-shift camps for the displaced are located in territory held by the Syrian Democratic Forces and the US-led coalition. The leaders of the online campaign claim the SDF runs them, the SDF denies this claim.

This follows a statement made by Angie Sidqi, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria, who said that upon visiting the camps located in the desert, she found that “Water was scarce”, and snakes and scorpions pose a severe risk to its residents. Residents were said to even be exposed to contaminated water sources, and medical personnel were severely understaffed. Reports of the dire state of the camps can be further substantiated by an IRIN North East Syria Situation report, which states that “Sustained military operations have resulted in severe shortages of foodstuffs and medicines.”

In a story released by Middle East Eye, some residents of the camps made claims of being stuck in Karama camp, and one in particular claimed that he had to bribe SDF officials to leave. When reaching the Syrian-Turkish borders, he told journalists that he was “afraid that the SDF will punish me if they find out I’ve complained about the conditions or tried to reach out.”

But the SDF press office itself has its released statements condemning, in specific, the conditions of camps in “Ma’adan and Sabkha .. al-Karameh Camps and Ain Issa and Hasakah camps.” In the full statement, they called for urgent relief and further condemned the exposure of the residents to “brutal shelling indiscriminate either by militia of the regime forces or by the ISIS.”

Another news outlet, ANHA hawar news agency, released a report claiming that “some refugees even do not have enough furniture while others completely lack tents as humanitarian organizations are turning a blind eye to their suffering.” In april 2017, Ara news released an earlier call by the Raqqa Civilian Council to provide aid to the people of Raqqa. After commending the SDF advances into the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, the civilian council insisted that IDP’s were susceptible to “deaths resulting from malnutrition, diseases and lack of help.” Egid Ibrahim, a representative of the Kurdish Red Crescent, complained about the response of the International humanitarian community.

“The UNCHR and UNICEF are supporting some IDPs from Manbij and Raqqa… But their capacity is limited.. It is difficult to recieve all these IDP’s, especially since there is a siege on Rojava, all the borders are closed, and we have this problem now.”

The siege he is talking about is the blockade overseen by the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, and the Government of Turkey. The latter sees the PYD (Democratic Union Party) as an offshoot of the PKK, which has waged an armed struggle for Kurdish cultural and political rights for decades. The former has close ties to the Turkish Government. Often, NGO workers who have tried to aid Syrians on its northern border have been persecuted by the ruling administration in Turkey. A report released by CS monitor on June 15th, alleges that “some NGOs have been closed and their workers expelled” for trying to aid humanitarian efforts in the area dubbed the Northern Democratic Federation of Syria.

In efforts to crackdown on humanitarian organizations, four Syrian staffers were detained for months before being extradited to Sudan. The report also claimed that there was an ongoing public vilification of INGO’s, with the most peculiar allegation by the daily Sabah being that humanitarian organizations were funneling cash to the PKK in Syria, with the assistance of cadres of Fethullah Gulen. In a surprising move, Mercy corps, which spent $34 million last year on Syria-related relief was banned by Erdogan’s regime.

But the Embargo is only part of a larger intricate web curtailing the activities of humanitarian organizations reaching Northern Syria. As Jeremy Konyndyk, former US Foreign Disaster Assistance chief, put it in a series of tweets: the Raqqa liberation timing made planning ahead for displacement difficult. With no help from the central government in Damascus, aid organizations have a difficult time navigating the planes of war. Aid organizations are compelled, by both the circumstances of war and politics, to make do with what they have. In a dangerous security environment that is not conducive to the huge logistical and construction efforts needed for an IDP camp to thrive, the blockade on Northern Syria is only an added burden.

But what does this mean for those who reside in these horrific IDP camps? Firstly, that global politics is hindering International humanitarian organizations from reaching those who need them the most. Secondly, that this must be resolved on an international scale. Finally, that if allegations of wrongdoing, including bribery and smuggling are being committed by authorities in the SDF and US-led coalition they should be investigated and dealt with accordingly.

But hyperbolic claims about “death camps” in Syria are not good for anybody.