As the first heavy rainfall of the Syrian winter fell on Roj camp, a disabled British woman struggled to open her tent to bring her young boy in from the rain.
he woman, who had earlier travelled to Islamic State territory, was injured by shrapnel to her brain and spine during the last fighting against the extremist group in Baghouz, eastern Syria, in 2019.
Since then the woman, who is not being named for legal reasons, has been detained in camps holding Islamic State supporters, dependent on her young son for help with daily tasks such as fetching food and water. Doctors say her untreated medical condition puts her at risk of sudden death.
“Now it’s really dangerous for me to live in the tent,” she said, explaining how she is unable to prevent her shelter collapsing in storms or to prepare food for herself and her son. Earlier this month she says someone sprayed petrol on her tent and set it alight with her and her son inside.
“I don’t know how he and I survived,” she said, as her son showed his burned plastic toy truck.
Roj camp holds nearly all of the British women and children detained by the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during fighting against IS. It was supposed to be a safer alternative to the much larger and more dangerous Al Hol camp.
However, a spate of tent burnings at Roj in the past two months suggests it could become as dangerous as Al Hol, a lawless camp rife with murders and dominated by hardcore IS supporters.
“They are targeting women who are less radical and any women who are not adhering to their rules,” said Vian Adar, a senior commander in the Women’s Protection Unit, one of the militias within the SDF that guard the facility.
Guards have increased security in response to what Ms Adar describes as extremists rioting and carrying out attacks in the camp.
“One woman attacked five others with a metal bar and told them she would kill them if they reported it,” she said.
“The situation is not yet out of control, but it’s not good,” said another British woman who asked to remain anonymous as she described growing tensions between long-term Roj residents and more radicalised women recently brought from Al Hol.
There are approximately 20 British women in Roj, though London has stripped the citizenship of about a dozen.
“They’re mixed. Some are radical, while others are fine, minding their own business, just waiting,” Ms Adar said of the women from the UK.
This year the British women watched as dozens of European women and their children were repatriated to countries including Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland and France.
The UK Government has repatriated at least seven British children of an estimated 60 who are detained in north-east Syria. But it won’t repatriate women it says pose a threat to national security. Lawyers in the UK are challenging the legality of stripping citizenship from the women.
While they live in limbo, doctors have warned that the disabled woman with the young boy could also die there.
Dr David Nicholl, a neurologist at City Hospital in Birmingham, believes she has developed epilepsy due to scarring from her brain injury and without treatment “is at significant risk of death”.
“She urgently needs referral to an epilepsy clinic (within two weeks),” he wrote in a medical report.
The woman said she did nothing wrong beyond travelling to IS territory with her husband and desperately wanted to be allowed to return to the UK. But more than that she said she was concerned for the welfare of her son.
“He didn’t do anything to deserve that,” she said, speaking with difficulty due to paralysis of the right side of her body. “He is the sunshine of my heart,” she said. “He does everything for me… he’s doing things kids his age shouldn’t.”
Telegraph Media Group Limited