Human Rights

Kyrgyzstan repatriates women, children from Syria camps

By Caravanserai and AFP

Residents of al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria are seen here during a security operation conducted by Kurdish forces last August 26. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

Residents of al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria are seen here during a security operation conducted by Kurdish forces last August 26. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

BISHKEK -- The United States on Monday (February 20) welcomed Kyrgyzstan's recent repatriation of 59 women and children from camps in northeastern Syria.

The Thursday (February 16) repatriation is part of a push, spearheaded by the United States, to return foreign nationals languishing in overcrowded camps in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria to their countries of origin.

Many of the women and children are relatives of "Islamic State" (IS) fighters.

Violence has been a recurring problem at al-Hol and Roj camps in Syria's al-Hasakeh province, which administrators fear will become hotbeds for IS indoctrination and recruitment.

"We are grateful to Kyrgyzstan and to our local partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), for working with us to help resolve the ongoing humanitarian and security challenges," said US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

IS "remains a persistent threat to the region, including to the thousands of vulnerable residents in these displaced persons camps, more than half of whom are under the age of 12", he said.

According to the Kyrgyz Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, "the 41 children and 18 women coming from Syrian conflict areas have arrived in Kyrgyzstan", state-run news agency Kabar reported Thursday.

The group was accompanied by security services and staff from the Foreign Ministry, Kabar said.

Authorities said the new arrivals will be placed in a re-adaptation centre, where they will undergo rehabilitation.

"Repatriation is the only durable solution to this urgent humanitarian and security situation," Price said.

"Approximately 10,000 residents of al-Hol and Roj displaced persons camps are from more than 60 countries outside Syria and Iraq," he said.

"We urge all governments to follow Kyrgyzstan's example and repatriate their nationals, especially women and children."

"We are grateful to the leadership of the Kyrgyz Republic for working to resolve the ongoing humanitarian crisis resulting from the dismantling of the so-called ISIS caliphate," said the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla on February 16.

"The only long-term solution to this crisis remains the successful repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of residents back to their countries of origin. In concert with our regional partners, CENTCOM will continue to support theses repatriation efforts using resources such as aircraft," he added.

Thousands of residents of predominantly Muslim countries in Central Asia have travelled to Iraq and Syria since 2011 to join IS and other extremist groups.

The Kyrgyz government estimates at least 800 Kyrgyz citizens travelled to Syria.

In March 2021, 79 children born to Kyrgyz parents were repatriated with the consent of their mothers, who remained in Iraq.

Scores of women from Central Asia are serving jail time in Iraq for taking part in the activities of extremist groups. In many cases, their husbands are assumed to have died in the fighting.

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also have repatriated their citizens from Syria and Iraq.

Between 2019 and 2021, Kazakhstan repatriated more than 700 nationals from Syria and Iraq in a series of operations.

Uzbekistan has repatriated more than 318 Uzbek women and children from Syria and Iraq, while Tajikistan repatriated 146 women and children from Syria last July and 84 children from Iraq in April 2019.

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