QAMISHLI -- Kurdish authorities on Monday (November 14) recovered the bodies of two Egyptian girls dumped in sewage at Syria's al-Hol camp, local security personnel said, as a push to repatriate foreigners takes on added urgency.
"The bodies of two Egyptian girls were found in the sewage waters" at the sprawling desert camp in al-Hasakeh province, a Kurdish security source said Tuesday, requesting anonymity.
The girls had been killed with a sharp object, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that the Kurdish forces who oversee the camp's security had transferred their bodies to a hospital for investigation.
The camp in northeast Syria is home to more than 50,000 people, including the relatives of suspected "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) elements, some of whom are extremists in their own right.
Administered by the semi-autonomous Kurdish authority, al-Hol is the largest camp for displaced people who fled after Kurdish forces, backed by the international coalition, dislodged ISIS from its final Syrian strongholds in 2019.
The camp is known for rampant violence, which has included arson attacks and murders carried out by self-appointed hesba units -- vigilante groups comprised of hardline ISIS women who enforce the group's harsh interpretation of sharia.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said it was "horrified" at the girls' killing.
"This latest incident involving the deaths of children in the camp highlights the urgent need for longer-term solutions for children in al-Hol," said the IRC country director in Syria, Tanya Evans.
'Many tragic stories'
Children make up 64% of the camp's residents and half are younger than 12, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which recently compared the fate of the thousands of children living in al-Hol to being in "a giant open air prison".
"We have seen and heard many tragic stories", said MSF Syria operations manager Martine Flokstra.
In a report, MSF cited al-Hol's lack of health care and incidents of violence, warning of the dangerous situation facing children.
Some died "as a result of prolonged delays in accessing urgent medical care", and there are stories of "young boys reportedly forcibly removed from their mothers once they reach around 11 years old, never to be seen again", she said.
Many of the camp's child detainees were born there and are "robbed of their childhoods, and condemned to a life exposed to violence and exploitation, with no education, limited medical support and no hope in sight", she added.
The report mentions the case of a 5-year-old boy hit by a truck who died after waiting several hours for hospitalisation.
In 2021, 79 children lost their lives, MSF said.
Some were killed in violence, including shootings inside the camp where attacks on guards or aid workers are common. The majority of deaths are crime related.
In May, the United States blacklisted five members of an ISIS network of financial facilitators that helped the group recruit children from displacement camps in Syria, including al-Hol.
Need for repatriation
Among al-Hol's detainees are more than 10,000 foreigners who hail from dozens of countries in the region and beyond.
MSF considers these foreign nationals, housed in a separate part of the camp called "the Annex", the responsibility of their home countries, which it said have failed in their obligations to repatriate them.
"Insufficient progress is being made to close the camp," Flokstra said.
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded camps.
But until recently nations mostly have received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.
Repatriations have picked up pace in response to growing calls for repatriation, however, with Iraq bringing home about 640 of its citizens in late October.
Australia and Canada last month repatriated some of their citizens from al-Hol and Roj, another Kurdish-controlled camp in Syria.
Germany, France, Tajikistan and Belgium also have repatriated some or all of their citizens this year.