I have just visited the Jeddah Rehabilitation Centre and had the opportunity to meet with returnees from the Al-Hol camp in northeast Syria, where so many Iraqi, Syrians, and third-country nationals – mainly women and children – remain stranded.
It is very important for me to have come here:
to express my support for Iraq’s exemplary efforts;
to emphasize the importance of continued returns;
and to urge all other countries and the wider international community to take responsibility and to act.
Nearly half of Al-Hol’s population is under the age of 12.
Deprived of their rights, vulnerable, and marginalized, they are trapped in a desperate situation with no end in sight.
As High Commissioner for Refugees, during ten years I visited camps all over the world. I have no doubt to say that the worst camp that exists in today’s world is Al-Hol, with the worst possible conditions for people and with enormous suffering for the people that have been stranded there for years.
So they deserve a path out. This is a matter of human decency and compassion – and it is a matter of security.
Because the longer we let this untenable situation fester, the more resentment and despair will grow, and the greater the risks to security and stability.
We must prevent the legacy of yesterday’s fight from fueling tomorrow’s conflict.
Iraq is demonstrating with enormous commitment that responsible repatriations are possible, by finding dignified solutions anchored in the principles of both accountability and reintegration.
And it is working. I witnessed it today.
I commend the government of Iraq for its efforts, which are an example for the world.
I recognize this is an extremely complex, challenging, and sensitive issue.
But I encourage the government to continue working towards the accelerated community-based reintegration of residents here, most of whom are under the age of 18.
We must provide durable solutions for all. The United Nations is fully committed and mobilized to support this vital effort.
From here, I want to send a message to all Member States that have nationals in Al-Hol and elsewhere. All Members States must significantly step up their efforts to facilitate the safe and dignified repatriation of their nationals.
They need to follow the example of Iraq. Iraq is not one of the richest countries in the world, but Iraq is having returnees back from Al-Hol. All countries with their citizens in Al-Hol must do the same, and must do the same in a dignified repatriation in line with applicable international law, and in the case of children, guided by the principles of the best interests of children.
I end my visit deeply impressed by the resilience of the people I met. They want to reintegrate in their communities, in their societies and I am deeply grateful to the government of Iraq, with all its difficulties, with all its problems, with all the security concerns that are so legitimate in this country, the government of Iraq is committed to make Iraqis come back here and to be reintegrated and rehabilitated for the future of the communities and for the future of the country. May the Iraq example be followed everywhere else.