Repatriate or reject: What countries are doing with IS group families

Since the fall of the Islamic State group's so-called "caliphate" in March, the international community has been torn over what to do with the families of foreign jihadists captured or killed in Syria and Iraq.

Delil Souleiman, AFP | US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) escort a woman and child in the northern Kurdish city of Qamishli as they are handed over to diplomats from Uzbekistan, May 2019.

Some 12,000 foreigners from as many as 40 countries 4,000 women and 8,000 children are currently stranded, mainly in Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

The Kurdish authorities are pressing for them to be returned to their countries of origin.

Here are several examples of how countries around the world are dealing with the issue:

Russia, Kosovo, first

Nearly 4,500 Russian citizens went abroad to fight alongside the IS group and it was the first to organise returns over a year ago.

By February around 200 women and children had returned, originating mainly from Russia's Islamic republics in the Caucasus. Moscow estimates that nearly 1,400 children are still stranded.

Kosovo, which is 90 percent Muslim, announced in April it is repatriating 110 nationals from Syria, almost all of them wives and children of jihadists.

France and Belgium: 'case by case'

After months of hesitation amid hostile public opinion, 12 orphaned children of French jihadists were flown home from Syria on Monday.

France repatriated five orphans from Syria in mid-March, as well as a three-year-old girl whose mother was sentenced to life imprisonment in Iraq.

Paris has said it is studying the files of all its citizens held in northeastern Syria on a case-by-case basis.

>> France taken to court for refusing to repatriate the children of jihadists

Like France, Belgium has been one of the biggest sources of foreign fighters for the IS group.

The authorities recorded more than 400 travelling from 2012 while 160 children and adolescents have been born with at least one Belgian parent involved.

Belgium says it will help the repatriation of children younger than 10, as long as the link with a Belgian parent is proven. "For the others it is case by case," the government says.

Germany: children repatriated

A dozen children of jihadist fighters have been repatriated from Iraq to Germany since March.

The German authorities, while cautious, say that the children are "victims" and that they should be repatriated if they have family to take them in.

Children who have been radicalised will be placed in a special institution but will not be locked up.

Denmark: stripped of nationality

The Danish government in late March drew up draft legislation under which children born abroad to jihadists will not have Danish nationality.

United States

The United States has urged Western countries to take their nationals back and has started repatriating some of its own.

Two American women and six children from families of suspected IS group members were repatriated in early June.

In July 2018 Washington brought home three IS group fighters for prosecution and also repatriated one woman with her four children.

Tunisia: no repatriation

Some 5,000 Tunisians have joined the IS group in Syria and Libya, according to the UN in 2015 one of the biggest contingents.

No children have been brought home from Syria or Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch in February.

Tunisia's government worries that repatriating children will only accelerate the return of their jihadist parents, according to a local rights group, the Rescue Association of Tunisians Trapped Abroad. 


In late May, Iraq repatriated to neighbouring Turkey 188 children of Turks accused of belonging to the IS group, a capital offence in Iraq.

Tajikistan, Uzbekistan

Tajikistan, from where more than 1,000 travelled to fight for the IS group, said in May that 84 children had been brought back from Iraq, where their parents had been either jailed or killed in battle.

On May 30, Uzbekistan said it had repatriated 156 nationals, mostly women and children.


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