When the UN & Locals Disagree on Potential Refugees' ISIS Ties

By Dan Cadman on July 24, 2017

Earlier today on BBC World News, which has been showcasing the recent recapture of the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS fighters, the presenter spoke of the difficulties that will continue to face the devastated city for many months to come, not least of which is reconciliation between the mostly Shiite central government in Baghdad and the Sunni populace in places like Mosul and Fallujah.

It was, at least in part, resentment against Shiite domination and systematic exclusion from government that led significant portions of the Sunni population to support ISIS either overtly or tacitly, a fact that continues to haunt these cities and others in the Sunni portion of Iraq.

To illustrate the point, the presenter went to Fallujah, which was wrested from ISIS control last June — over a year ago now — and showed footage of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) camps that still occupy ground outside the city. The occupants aren't there because Fallujah is still in ruin; while it continues to have problems with jobs, electrical outages, and the like, it has begun to look and act, relatively speaking, like a functioning city.

According to the BBC journalist, a primary reason for the continued existence of these camps is because the occupants cannot be reintegrated into the city; they are suspected of collaboration with ISIS, and Fallujah's population (which, to reiterate, is itself majority Sunni), rejects them, even though they have allegedly been "cleared" of such suspicions. The presenter interviewed one woman who declaimed that, despite assertions to the contrary, her two sons had not joined ISIS, and who demanded proof of the allegations. (The sons themselves apparently weren't to be found for interview purposes; the mother was surrounded by significantly younger children when she spoke.)

I've been thinking about the Fallujah portion of this BBC news segment, and its implications.

First, who "cleared" the people in these camps? Was it UNHCR? If so, isn't it interesting that those who would best be in a position to know — the denizens of Fallujah, most of them also Sunni, who suffered under ISIS violence and brutality — don't care about the clearance and don't want these people back in their midst? It harkens back to previous times and places, such as France and other European countries after liberation from the Nazis: Those who survived the depredations had a pretty good fix on who the collaborators had been, and often exacted their own justice outside of the ad hoc legal systems the Allies set up to deal with such situations.

Second, if these people are residing in UNHCR camps, and someone has declared them to be "cleared", then in lieu of attempting to reintegrate them into Fallujah at the risk of their lives, will they be placed onto refugee waiting lists to be delivered over to Western countries for integration into ours? If other Muslims — in fact, fellow Sunnis — don't trust them, and think they harbor extreme fundamentalist views, as evidenced by their support of ISIS, can they really be integrated into our way of life?

Think back on that woman and her family, and a very possible scenario: She and the young children are accepted as refugees in some Western country, say perhaps the United States. (Readers will recall that, ironically, although Iraq was initially on the presidential executive order (EO) calling for a timeout in the refugee admission process, it was removed when the EO was recalled and reissued.)

Once she is settled here, her two older sons — the ones accused of ISIS participation — resurface. She applies on their behalf as "follow-to-join" family members of the principal refugee (her). If they have been "cleared", what's to stop their admission? Yet why should we accord any credence whatever to such a process when their own former friends and neighbors, and co-religionists, have rejected them so resoundingly?