Russian authorities are repatriating 35 children of Islamic State parents from Syria
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- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
Russia began repatriating 35 children born to Islamic State (ISIS) affiliated parents from northeast Syria on Thursday following an agreement with the area’s Kurdish-led administration.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) on Thursday welcomed a Russian delegation headed by Anna Kuznetsova, Commissioner of Russian Children’s Rights, to hand the children over to Russian authorities.
“We are adamant on returning our children from prisons and military camps. Today, after a long discussion, we will take the children back to Russia,” Kuznetsova said in a joint press conference.
Twenty-six of the 35 children left Syria on a Russia-bound plane on Thursday, Kuznetsova’s press service told Russian state news outlet Tass. The remaining nine children have been taken to the Syrian capital of Damascus, where their paperwork is being processed, she said.
Paperwork will be completed “very soon”, she told reporters at Hmeymim airbase, “and the children will be brought back on the first available plane.”
All children are being taken to Russia’s National Medical Research Center of Children’s Health, where relatives await their return.
The NES said all the children are all from northeast Syria’s al-Hol camp, where spouses and children of ISIS members are being held in squalid, overcrowded conditions.
Tens of thousands of people joined ISIS from across Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa, helping the group capture swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq and exercise brutal rule over millions of people. Thousands from Russia joined the group.
After the territorial defeat of the group in Iraq in 2017 and Syria in 2019, attention turned to prosecution of ISIS members and the repatriation of detained fighters, spouses, and children. Many await their fate in overcrowded prisons and camps in both countries, including al-Hol.
There are no exact figures on the number of Russian children currently in Iraq and Syria, but Kheda Saratova, a repatriation activist and advisor to Chechen leader Ramazan Kadyrov estimated in February 2019 that there could be as many as 1,400.
By September last year, around 200 women and children had been taken back to Russia, according to Saratova. Most of the children, who primarily come from the Muslim-majority North Caucasus region, have been placed in the care of their relatives.
Though more active in the repatriation in its citizens, Russian officials have expressed hesitance to repatriate ISIS members and their kin due to similar safety concerns, Saratova has said. A program to return women was suspended more than a year ago over security fears.
European governments in particular have expressed resistance to repatriation of ISIS suspects and their relatives, citing threats to national security. Some are repatriating children and their mothers on a case by case basis.
NES Foreign Relations Department co-chair Abdulkarim Omar thanked Kuznetsova for undertaking the “noble humanitarian work” of repatriating children.
“On our side, we always urge the international community to shoulder their responsibility towards their citizens, especially children since they are innocent victims except that they were born to parents or a parent affiliated with Daesh terrorist organization,” Omar said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.