As violence spikes in the sprawling desert camp of al-Hol, there have been renewed calls from camp administrators and others to make the repatriation of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) wives and children a top priority.
There are fears that the camp administration, overseen by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is stretched too thin to ensure that al-Hol residents who espouse hardline ideology are kept in check.
As a result, many are in danger of becoming more deeply radicalised.
Thousands of women and children from almost 60 countries, the close relatives of ISIS fighters, reside in the camp in al-Hasakeh province, northeastern Syria.
Al-Hol is divided into nine sections, housing about 56,000 people, in total.
The vast majority of them, about 29,000, are Iraqis.
There are about 18,000 Syrians, with about 8,000 of other nationalities, who hail from countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the region.
The camp's ninth section houses foreign women, many of whom espouse ISIS's violent extremist ideology.
These women have formed hesba units -- vigilante groups that enforce ISIS's harsh interpretation of Sharia -- and have instigated violence, riots, escape attempts and attacks on camp guards, aid providers and paramedics.
On June 28, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a man and a woman had been murdered by unidentified assailants in al-Hol camp.
The man was shot dead in al-Hol's sixth section, and the decapitated body of a displaced Syrian woman from Homs province was found in the same section.
The same day, the United Nations (UN) said there had been 106 killings inside the camp over the past 18 months. Most of the victims were women.
Al-Hol camp -- intended as a temporary detention facility -- is increasingly unsafe and the child detainees are being condemned to a life with no future, said UN resident co-ordinator in Syria Imran Riza.
"It's a very harsh place, and it's become an increasingly unsafe place," he said.
Amid concerns that the situation in al-Hol could get out of hand, efforts are being stepped up to urge countries to pull their citizens from the camp and bear their share of the burden of responsibility for their care and rehabilitation.
This includes, where appropriate, affording them fair trials to ensure they are brought to justice for any actions that violate the law.
The UN has commended efforts to repatriate its citizens from al-Hol, and is encouraging other countries to take similar steps.
Tajikistan repatriated 146 women and children related to ISIS fighters from al-Hol in July, AFP reported.
Earlier that month, France brought back 35 children and 16 mothers from camps in Syria holding family members of suspected ISIS elements, including al-Hol, its foreign ministry said.
And in June, Belgium flew back 16 children of ISIS fighters and six mothers with Belgian nationality from al-Hol, officials said.
Since the beginning of this year, Iraq has repatriated 2,500 Iraqis from the camp in three batches, with the most recent batch of 700 transported out on June 1.
After undergoing security checks, they were transferred to al-Jadaa camp in al-Qayyarah, south of Mosul, to receive care and rehabilitation services, ahead of their return and reintegration into their hometowns.
Need for 'concrete solutions'
Repatriation operations are continuing within the framework of UN and Iraqi co-ordination, with a delegation from the UN and Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassem al-Araji visiting the camp to inspect conditions, the UN said June 6.
Al-Araji on July 20 called on the international community to play its role in resolving the al-Hol issue "in view of the real danger it poses to Iraq and the region".
In April, shortly after assuming command of the US Army's Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla visited al-Hol camp.
He has expressed concern for the growing threat in al-Hol, describing the situation as "a ticking time bomb".
In a July 23 opinion piece in the Washington Post, his predecessor Gen. Joseph Votel expressed similar concern.
Pointing to the threat posed by the camp, and the promotion of violent and extremist discourse and recruitment of terrorists in it, he called for the formation of a joint international task force to develop effective solutions to address it.
"An international interagency task force is urgently needed to develop concrete solutions," he wrote, noting that in addition to military resources, "diplomatic, legal and international nongovernmental organisation leadership is required".
"Every option should be considered for motivating and incentivising countries to repatriate, rehabilitate and reintegrate their citizens from al-Hol," he said.
'Third generation' concerns
Iraqi security analyst Safaa al-Aasam warned that ISIS has been attempting to indoctrinate and recruit the sons of its members who were killed in Iraq and Syria after 2017 into its ranks.
The group is building a "third generation" of fighters, comprising youth who "have become teenagers and young men today, and is trying through its secret cells to infiltrate the camps in which they live, most notably al-Hol", he said.
"The isolated and complex living environment in the camps, and values charged with extremism and revenge on which ISIS children were raised, under their extremist mothers, makes them akin to time bombs," he said.
Some will be "capable of carrying out the most deadly and brutal terrorist acts", al-Aasam said, noting that Iraq has "grave concerns" about the situation in al-Hol camp remaining as it is now.
"The countries that have citizens there should organise their repatriation and not continue to refuse to take them back or ignore the danger," he said.
Al-Aasam urged the pursuit of all possible means "to correct the behaviour and mindsets of those mislead by ISIS, and prevent the group from getting fresh blood" in its ranks.
This is "everyone's responsibility, including the UN, international organisations, authorities, national institutions, clerics, dignitaries and elders, and all prominent and influential figures in the local communities", he said.
The recent activity of ISIS remnants in a number of regions of Iraq "underscores the continuing challenge of terrorism", he noted.
The tentacles of ISIS "are still present, and it has incubators and funds", he said. "It is necessary to continue the efforts to crush it and eradicate its ideology."