“Being sent out from the Islamic State to the camps was by far one of the worst moments of my life,” she says, her face obscured by a black niqab.
Since then the Kurdish-led SDF has been left guarding prisons holding roughly 10,000 IS-affiliated men and nearly 70,000 mostly women and children in the sprawling Al Hol camp, with about 2,000 in the smaller Roj camp. Among the detainees are several dozen British women and about 60 British children, according to estimates by aid groups.
“It’s obligatory on you to free them,” the woman in the video says, wagging a gloved finger. “Help them and donate every month to help smuggle them out.”
Many western governments have ignored calls by the SDF and the United States to repatriate their citizens, leaving women and children lingering in deteriorating conditions in which hundreds have died from malnutrition and disease.
With increasing numbers paying to be smuggled to Idlib, where some eventually plan to cross into Turkey, counter-terrorism experts warn that leaving them in limbo is a dangerous long-term strategy.
After Kurdish authorities recently started moving high profile European women and their children to a higher security extension to Roj camp, those remaining in Al Hol have increased escape attempts and fundraising efforts.
“This is another sister from Al-Hol Camp,” reads a recent Facebook post in English by a female IS supporter. “If she doesn’t leave soon, they will catch them and send them to the humiliation camp – Roj where it’s impossible to escape.”
“A lot of people are trying now” to escape, said Vera Mironova, a Harvard University researcher who speaks to IS-affiliated women in the camps.
While the Turkish border is much closer, Idlib, over 300 miles westward, is the only option for most Europeans she said, as Turkish authorities only allow crossings from Kurdish-controlled areas after prior negotiation.
With traffickers charging roughly £12,000 to smuggle a family out, a decentralised network of social media accounts is soliciting donations via PayPal or the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Numerous accounts copy and paste messages across various platforms, including Telegram, Facebook and Twitter, making it difficult for authorities to stamp out.
“The online jihadist environment has been a whack-a-mole environment for a long time and more so now than ever,” said Laith Alkhouri, a private sector counter-terrorism adviser. “Telegram has achieved a great deal with the suspension of these accounts but instead of decreasing their activities, they expand onto new apps and then return to Telegram with backup accounts.”