Syria's semi-autonomous Kurdish administration has handed Tajikistan 146 women and children related to ISIS, a Kurdish official said Monday, in the first such repatriation to the ex-Soviet state.
Thousands of foreign extremists joined ISIS as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared by the group across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The fighters were dislodged in 2019 from their last scrap of territory in Syria by Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition, and Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded camps.
But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing a domestic political backlash.
The Kurds handed over “42 women and 104 children, including orphans, who were held in the Al Hol and Roj camps” in north-east Syria to Tajikistan's ambassador to Kuwait Zabidullah Zabidov, Kurdish foreign affairs official Fanar Kaeet said.
Mr Zabidov is handling the repatriation process for Tajikistan.
The ex-Soviet state has been in contact with Syria's Kurds “for months” to repatriate their citizens, Mr Kaeet said, during a press conference in the north-eastern city of Qamishli.
The women “did not commit any crimes or terrorist acts in north-eastern Syria,” he said.
Al Hol and Roj camps are home to tens of thousands of relatives of IS militants from Syria and abroad, with the former holding 10,000 foreigners.
Kurdish-led forces escorted the women, some in colourful clothing, others in long black robes, and the children, as they were taken by bus to Qamishli airport, AFP correspondents in Qamishli reported.
Some women tried to hide their faces.
Young children timidly peeked through the bus windows, from behind thick curtains that hid the other passengers.
Rights groups have long decried grim living conditions and rampant criminality in the north Syrian camps holding extremists' relatives.
According to HRW, more than 41,000 foreign citizens — the majority under 12 years old — are being held in camps and prisons in north-east Syria over alleged IS links.