A bipartisan group of US senators put forward a bill to give a senior official the ability to coordinate the US government’s approach to ISIS detainee and displacement camps in Syria, where tens of thousands of refugees as well as those accused of being tied to the terrorist group are housed.
The reintroduction of the “Syria Detainee and Displaced Persons Act” comes days after a devastating earthquake struck parts of Turkey and Syria, with the death toll topping 20,000 people as of Thursday.
The proposed legislation builds on the establishment in a 2019 bill of the ISIS detainee coordinator position – a role which has not been filled – and is led by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, along with lead Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Ranking Member Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, are fellow cosponsors.
Last October, Ian Moss, a deputy coordinator at the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, said the US assessed that “the situation in northeast Syria detention facilities and displaced persons camps to be both a security and humanitarian crisis that will continue to worsen if nothing is done to address the situation.”
The bipartisan bill aims to empower a coordinator “to synchronize the whole-of-government effort” to address this crisis, according to a press release.
Specifically, the bill would elevate the coordinator position to a senior level one, renew the coordinator’s mandate until 2025 and expand it “to explicitly include all inhabitants of the camps, not just fighters and ISIS-affiliated individuals.”
It would “establish that it is the policy of the United States to repatriate and – where appropriate – prosecute inhabitants of the camps with the intent of closing them as soon as practicable,” “direct the development of an interagency strategy on how to address the camps, with an emphasis on efforts to address acute humanitarian and security concerns, repatriation and prosecution efforts, and a framework to measure progress; and create a comprehensive, annual, interagency reporting requirement to detail progress consistent with the required strategy and stated policy. ”
In a statement, Shaheen said that “ISIS detainee camps have become hotbeds for radicalization across Syria, and in the wake of this tragic deadly earthquake, there is real concern of spiraling humanitarian and security challenges that could exacerbate extremism and long-term instability in the region.”
“The US must prioritize establishing a policy toward these camps and ensure robust humanitarian assistance is delivered to save lives and aid already vulnerable populations,” she said. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s in the best interest of our national security to address the inadequate conditions of the camps that threaten to become even worse in light of this devastating earthquake.”
A Pentagon spokesperson told CNN Thursday that the military was not aware of any damage to ISIS prisons run by the US and its partner forces in the region.
The US has encouraged countries to repatriate their own citizens who are held in the camps.
“While its so-called ‘caliphate’ has been defeated, ISIS remains a persistent threat to the region and to the thousands of vulnerable residents in displaced persons camps,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement in mid-January welcoming Spain’s repatriation of “two women and thirteen children from displaced persons camps in northeast Syria.”
CNN’s Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.