Last Sunday, US-backed Syrian forces warned of the mass exodus of people from the imploding caliphate, who are concentrated in small, densely populated pockets. 5,000 civilians have poured through Kurdish-led Syrian forces, with numbers expected to rise; infrastructure and resources are already scarce with Syria’s Kurds calling for aid. Foreign countries face a moral dilemma: either accept old citizens back into their societies or cut all relations. Ex-terrorist members and their families seek alternatives to their homes, many now residing in under-resourced refugee camps with suspected fighters held in Syrian held prisons.
Mustefa Bali spokesman for Syria’s Democratic Forces tweeted: “As thousands of foreigners flee Daesh’s crumbling caliphate, the burden which is already too heavy for us to handle is getting even heavier”. Since December, over 46,000 people have left the caliphate, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Many now reside in refugee camps and have become stateless with little to no contact with the outside world. Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar states that “detention centres can’t accommodate all the fighters… This sudden influx presents huge challenges to the response – additional tents, non-food items, water and sanitation and, health supplies are urgently needed”.
The issue has shifted from bloody fighting to resolving the humanitarian crisis. The current crisis confronts not only Syria but European countries who now face the dilemma of whether to bring ex-citizens home. Already the UK has revoked the citizenship of 19-year-old ex-ISIS member Shamima Begum whose involvement with ISIS shocked the Western world. The Straits Times reports that over 900 people left Britain for Syria to join these groups. What is to be done with these fighters from Western nations is up for debate, although the U.S. expects foreign allies to take them back to help suppress ISIS’s revival.
With ISIS as a rogue state coming to an end, it transforms from a physical entity to an idea, a loose organization that will long ‘outlive’ the caliphate. Despite the group’s collapse, numerous copycat attacks may last for decades; ISIS has since been elevated to a symbol advocating revolt against the Western world, emphasizing the establishment of a new Islamic caliphate to kick-start the second golden age of Islam. ISIS has burnt a mark into the Western psyche partly due to the media’s overexposure of the group, Spanish photographer Ricardo Vilanova told the BBC, “I think the West is also to blame because we became a loudspeaker for the Islamic State. Every time there was an execution, anything related to the Islamic State would get the front pages. I believed that encouraged them to get crueller and amplify their message”.
Reducing human suffering in the region involves removing our ideas of the helplessness of the people. World powers are already preparing for the outbreak of a new war in the region. The fear of an ISIS 2.0 reduces any chance of establishing lasting peace. Furthermore, the limbo-like state that ex-ISIS fighters face heightens the potential of a new threat in Syria.