Canadians detained at a sprawling camp for ISIS families in northern Syria have been photographed and fingerprinted in recent days as part of an operation to register them so they can be sent home.
The Syrian Democratic Forces entered the Al-Hawl camp last week to create a registry of the estimated 10,000 foreign women and children held there since their capture during the fight against ISIS.
Roughly a dozen Canadian women and several dozen children are among those at the camp, and an academic researcher told Global News that at least some had been registered.
Professor Amarnath Amarasingam said he had been in contact with the families of Canadian women who had been through the registration process, which also involved having iris scans.
“Everyone in the camp, Canadians included, are now being fingerprinted and scanned,” the Queen’s University terrorism expert said on Monday.
The administration that governs Syria’s Kurdish-held northeast said in a statement that it was “collecting and registering data about the foreign wives of ISIS members” and their children.
“This collection of data helps improve the living and humanitarian conditions inside Al-Hawl camp, as well as facilitate coordination with the countries whose nationals reside in the camp and urge them to assume their responsibilities towards their citizens,” the statement said.
“It will help find a solution to the complicated situation in the camp, given the huge number of women and children living in it.”
Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of reports about the registration drive. The government has so far taken no steps to bring captured ISIS members back to Canada.
“Canadian consular officials are actively engaged with Syrian Kurdish authorities to seek information on Canadians in their custody. We continue to monitor the situation very closely,” a spokesperson said.
Amarasingam said much of what was known about the makeup of the massive detention camp was based on speculation, and humanitarian groups had been asking Kurdish forces to register the detainees.
He said there may be a plan to move several thousand families to a different facility called Roj Camp, and to isolate hardcore ISIS members from the rest of the population.
“It seems like this registration process is the first step towards more changes coming in the next few months,” he said.
International troops were not participating in the registration drive, which was conducted by the Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the SDF, U.S. Colonel Myles B. Caggins III, the spokesperson for the anti-ISIS coalition, said in a statement.
“The coalition has previously divested biometrics equipment to the SDF, in order for them to identify and enroll suspected ISIS members in an electronic database used by international law enforcement and intelligence officials,” he said.
“The SDF also uses these biometrics to support countries of origin to repatriate women and children,” he said. “Some of these women are still active ISIS members who need to be identified and removed from the civilian setting.”