Recently, around forty families have been transferred from Al-Hol camp to the much smaller Roj camp (with less than 2000 inhabitants as compared to around 70,000 in Al-Hol). RIC visited Roj Camp and talked to Nura Abdo, head of camp management. She explains how the camp is organized and what distinguishes it from Al-Hol.

My name is Nura Abdo, and I am head of the camp management. This camp was created on the 24 June 2015. At first, it was for IDPs from Heseke [fleeing from ISIS]. After the situation in Heseke improved, they left and refugees from Iraq came, along with some IDPs from Syria. But when the people from Iraq arrived, there were already some foreigners among them, that is, women who were part of ISIS. Now, there are Iraqis and Syrians here, but the Syrians are only about 14 households, plus 64 Iraqi households. The others are all foreign nationals. They number about 600 households. The Iraqis and Syrians are families, women, men and children. But the foreigners are women and children only.

How are the daily needs of the camp inhabitants covered in Roj camp?

Several NGOs are working inside the camp: the Kurdish Red Crescent, which has set up a health point. The Administration constructed the health point, but it’s the Kurdish Red Crescent who is running it. In the health point there is an ophthalmologist, a dentist, medical analysis, and a couple of other medical specialists. There is also a night-shift, staff is present from 5PM until 8 in the morning. Blumont is here, and works on material support. They register new arrivals, give them mattresses, blankets, kitchen utensils and so on. They fix broken taps, for example, they cover material needs.

The women prepare food in their own tents, for themselves. Each one of them has a gas cooker we give them, via an NGO. We fill up their gas for them every Friday. Now, we are organizing new clothes now for the women who have newly arrived. Another point: the women have 24-hour water and electricity. [Note: highly unusual for NES, where most cities have several hours’ electricity a day and water once every two or three days]. They have televisions. Practically speaking, their needs are met.

We also organize education for the children. Before, the children were studying an Iraqi curriculum. Now, they will receive a version of the UNICEF curriculum. Save The Children works here, delivering education. The International Red Cross has a women’s section, and it also works on education, but for women. It teaches them handiwork, sewing and so on, but this is only for the Iraqi women. It still wasn’t possible to start this work with the foreign women. The Waqfa Jin foundation also works here, as you saw. They work independently and also deliver education.

Then you have us, the camp management. What’s our work? When new arrivals come, we register them. We coordinate and organize with the NGOs. We bring them here to work, and assist them. And the women of the camp come to us, with whatever problems they have. They come themselves, and NGOs come to us as well. The work of the camp management is to deal with whatever comes up.

Like what, for example?

Some of these women are poor, they don’t receive any money by Hawala [money transfer system, popular in the Middle East]. So what do we do? We helped some of them to buy an oven and work, to prepare food and sell it. For those who do have husbands here – because there are just two foreign women whose husbands are here – we have helped their men to find work, one working with the gas and so on, another with the bakery, and so on.

For some small households we have taken them to the souq (market outside the camp), but for large households we couldn’t do it. And then when you do this the others of course want to go to the souq as well. So now we’ve set up a souq here, and they purchase their needs from there.

In terms of health, if it’s necessary we also bring them to the hospital in Derik, or Qamishlo. We deal with them on this basis that they also are humans, the majority of them women and children, who have left their families behind and got into a hard situation. We work on this basis.

What is your approach, as camp management, with the women living in the camp?

Our system is not exactly like other camps. For example, when women come to us, black clothes are forbidden. The niqab is forbidden [ie. women can have their head covered but not wear a full face veil]. But more importantly, our approach is much nicer with them. Our door is always open and anyone who wants to come to us and speak is free to do so. As you saw, when you came today I was there among them. We go among them, we sit with them, we drink a tea with them. We want to overcome the limits of our thinking – I myself don’t want to think, ‘will they kill me? will something happen to me?’ We are here together and we can sit together, speak together. This is our approach.

Moreover, the women here are not like the women in the other camp. You can sit with them. In Hol camp they throw stones at you, they attack the NGOs. Here, you can go and walk around in the camp by yourself and greet them. I don’t know exactly how they do it in Hol, but we go among them, among the tents, we invite them to share their problems, we give them a coffee and sit together and hear their issues. 

Apart from banning black clothes, what other rules and methods do you have in this camp?

We didn’t do anything more than this, banning black dresses. We allow them to receive money from abroad via Hawala, they have telephones. We haven’t put many restrictions on them.

When women come from Al-Hol to Roj, what’s the mechanism? Is it open to everyone?

No, it’s not open to everybody. Certain people are identified and brought here and when they come, we register them, give them water and biscuits, something to eat, because they’ve come a long way, especially for the kids. After this, we issue them with tents and the Red Cross conducts a health check and we issue them with some ready-to-eat food, olive oil, tinned meat, bread and so on, because they won’t be ready to start eating right away.  Once the women are with us, they are not treated any differently to the others.

There are hundreds of families here. Our tents are not directly on the ground, like in Hol: they are built on a cement base with some breezeblocks around them. We ran out of space, so now we’ve started building a new section to the camp, with space for around 400 households. Until now, 96 families have come here from Hol. 

What can be done to change the mentality of women who were or are close to ISIS ideology? To what extent has these women’s mentality changed since their arrival in the camp?

When the women first arrived to us and we distributed them among the tents, they said were going to stay 2 or 3 in each tent, because they were scared of us, they had a certain picture of us in their minds. After they got to know us, after a couple of months, each one wanted to live in their own tent. [ie. not staying in a group for protection]. This shows they developed more trust, as they now want to live alone.

We can’t say that their mentality has completely changed, and perhaps they still do things in the camp which we don’t know about. But as we can see, the situation is quite good. The security is OK. When you go into the camp, you see some changes in their clothes, in their atmosphere. There are even some who wear trousers, or go with their hair uncovered. 

Now, to keep working on this, we are prioritising the work with Waqfa Jin. We are also connecting with other NGOs to work with them, to go among the women, and see what they want to learn. Our aim is that these women come to learn with us, rather than making their own meetings among the tents. That they come and open their minds.