By Alexander Bogatik
A screenshot of a video shows alleged Kazakhstani children undergoing training at an 'Islamic State' (IS) training camp in Syria. Convicted Kazakhstani militant Nurkhan Seytkali posted the video online in September 2014. [Screenshot by Alexander Bogatik]
ASTANA -- Kazakhstani authorities are working to bring home the children left behind by Kazakhstani militants killed in Syria.
"We must give them back a normal childhood and a normal life," said Ruslan Seksenbayev, chairman of the Taraz-based NGO Beibit Aspan (Peaceful Sky).
"These kids are located in refugee camps. We need to undertake all measures to quickly repatriate them," he told Caravanserai.
"Many Kazakhstanis who fought on the side of terrorists in Syria have been killed, but their children have been left behind," Ardak Madiyev, director of the Foreign Ministry Consular Service Department, told Caravanserai. "We are developing a plan with the competent authorities to search for these children and repatriate them."
The effort is complicated by the inability of particularly young children to say they are from Kazakhstan, he said.
The most recent round of negotiations among the delegations of guarantor countries backing the ceasefire in Syria took place in Astana December 21-22.
One of the tasks that came from the meeting is the repatriation of Kazakhstani children stranded in Syria, according to authorities in Astana.
Some 390 Kazakhstani children aged 16 and under are languishing in Syria and Iraq, according to the Kazakhstani National Security Committee (KNB).
"We can't say whether all the children we are aware of are alive," KNB Deputy Chairman Nurgali Bilisbekov told Tengri News earlier in December.
"So far, authorities have managed to return 63 children to their homeland, and are awaiting the arrival of another 50," he said.
Immediately after returning to Kazakhstan, these children will undergo rehabilitation and deradicalisation by the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Education and Science.
Children have malleable minds, and once they have a peaceful life, "they will blossom and be like other children", said Inna Bolshakova, a psychologist in Shymkent.
"In spite of the tremendous upheavals in their early childhood and the stigmatisation that they may experience as the 'children of terrorists', they can return to a normal life and become not fanatics but respectable citizens," she told Caravanserai.
"Given [their experiences], they will require not only rehabilitation but also deradicalisation," she said. "This is an essential step -- after all, they were instilled with the aspiration to kill and to join the armed 'jihad'. Boys were forced [to have] contempt for girls and other radical views."
The most effective deradicalisation methods will be playful conversations with specially trained psychologists and immersion in a peaceful life with simple childhood joys, she said.
"Even though their parents died, these children are lucky that they will return to a normal life and won't repeat their parents' fate," she added.
Presidents of Central Asian countries overall called 2017 a year of changes and said they foresee further innovations in 2018.
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