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2 women, 6 children from IS families repatriated to US: Syria Kurds

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Beirut (AFP)

Two American women and six children from families of suspected Islamic State group members were repatriated to the United States on Wednesday in the latest transfers from a crowded camp in Syria.

The move is part of an effort by the Kurdish administration in northeast Syria to reduce the population of Al-Hol, which is crammed with nearly 74,000 people from more than 40 countries.

It comes after Norway on Monday retrieved five Norwegian orphans from the same camp and Kurdish authorities started sending hundreds of Syrian women and children home as part of a wider effort to clear Al-Hol of its Syrian inhabitants.

Uzbekistan said it repatriated more than 100 nationals from Syria last week.

Wednesday's repatriation was carried out "at the request of the US government and 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.

Akef told AFP the eight were from "IS families" staying in Al-Hol, which is populated by suspected IS members, their families as well as regular civilians forced out of their homes by successive US-backed assaults against the last bastions of the jihadists' "caliphate".

- Tricky repatriation -

The Kurdish administration is looking to take off its hands thousands of foreign jihadists and their relatives trapped in Kurdish-held camps and detention centres following the declared defeat of the IS proto-state on March 23.

But repatriation is a sensitive issue for Western nations such as France and Britain, which have experienced attacks by homegrown extremists and have little interest in seeing more return.

Britain has gone so far as to strip IS members of citizenship, while France has said it will repatriate only orphans.

The US, however, has urged Western countries to take their nationals back and has started repatriating some if its own.

In July 2018, it transferred one man and woman with suspected links to IS from Kurdish custody to the US, to stand trial.

But, the case of Hoda Muthana, a young woman from Alabama who joined the IS group, has undermined Washington's commitment to removing its own nationals from Syria.

The United States in February said that Muthana was not a citizen due to her father's former diplomatic status.

The US constitution grants citizenship to everyone born in the country -- with the exception of children of diplomats, as they are not under the jurisdiction of the United States.

Muthana's father, Ahmed Ali, served at the Yemeni mission at the United Nations.

He has filed a lawsuit seeking to affirm his daughter's citizenship, saying he had left his diplomatic post several months before her birth.

- Tinderbox -

The Kurdish administration and aid agencies have warned of deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Al-Hol, where acute malnutrition, pneumonia and dehydration are rife among children in the camp.

"The situation in the camp is very difficult," Sheikhmous Ahmed, an official with the Kurdish administration told AFP earlier this week.

He accused the international community of "neglecting its responsibilities towards the displaced" in Al-Hol, most of whom were evacuated from the "caliphate".

Some evacuees from IS areas have been repentant, but others have made clear their allegiance to IS remains intact, turning Al-Hol into a tinderbox.

Residents have reported clashes with guards, violent factional quarrels, warning that Al-Hol is emerging as a fresh jihadist powder keg.

In recent weeks, women in the camp have staged demonstrations demanding better services as well information on their husbands held by the Kurds, according to the UN's humanitarian office.

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