Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 June 2020

US repatriates eight women and children from ISIS camp with Kurdish help

The United States has been urging countries to take responsibility for their citizens in Syria

Civilians evacuated from ISIS's embattled holdout of Baghouz in Syria wait at a screening area held by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. AFP
Civilians evacuated from ISIS's embattled holdout of Baghouz in Syria wait at a screening area held by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. AFP

Two women with ties to ISIS and six children were repatriated to the United States from the eastern Syrian camp of Al Hol, which has housed thousands who fled the militant group's last shred of territory, the Kurdish-led authority in the country said on Monday.

It appears to be the first publically confirmed repatriation from Syria to the US of Westerners who travelled join ISIS since last July when Samantha Elhassani, an American who went with her husband and children to join ISIS in Syria, was returned home and charged.

The administration, which controls large parts of north and east Syrian said it returned the citizens "at the request of the US government".

It was "based... on the free and voluntary desire of the American citizens to return to their country without any pressure or coercion," spokesman Kamal Akef said in a statement.

Mr Akef said the eight were a part of ISIS families who live in the camp.

Al Hol camp in north-east Syria is home to nearly 74,000 people from more than 40 countries, among them wives and children of suspected ISIS fighters.

It is not clear how the eight people were repatriated. The US State Department and the US Department of Defence did not respond to a request for comment.

The issue of what to do with hundreds of men and women who fought for, or pledged allegiance to, ISIS and their children, has plagued the international community since the last slither of ISIS-held territory was taken at the end of March.

The Kurdish administration says it is struggling to manage the thousands of people in the camps but is struggling to convince countries to take their citizens back. Repatriating those who left their country to join the group who has often attacked it remains a tricky domestic issue.

The United States, who is leading the Coalition to Defeat ISIS and has been working closely with Kurds, has been calling for countries to take responsibility for those who left to join ISIS.

On Monday, Norway retrieved five Norweigan orphans from the Al Hol camp and Kurdish authorities started sending women and children home as a part of an effort to clear the camp of Syrian inhabitants.

In February, the US State Department called on countries to "repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF".

Then, in March, the State Department commended Morocco for its repatriation of eight foreign terrorist fighters. Kosovo repatriated some 110 of its citizens from Syria in April, with the help of the United States.

Britain has stripped the citizenship of ISIS members, which has caused its own domestic debate. Meanwhile, France said it will only repatriate orphans.

But conditions in Al Hol camp are deteriorating. Acute malnutrition, pneumonia and dehydration are rife. Some members of ISIS have repented, while others have made it clear their allegiance remains to the group, raising fears that Al Hol could turn into a tinderbox for a resurgent so-called Caliphate.

Clashes with guards have been reported by residents, and the UN's humanitarian office said in recent weeks women have campaigned for better services and information on their imprisoned husbands.

Updated: June 6, 2019 11:51 AM

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