ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Following Russia's acceptance of over 100 children of ISIS-affiliated parents from Iraq earlier in the year, a working group from Moscow's foreign ministry tasked with returning Russian minors from active combat zones in Syria and Iraq met to discuss those now in Syria.
The ministry has said that eight minor Russian nationals have so far been transported from a prison in Damascus and that DNA samples have been collected from another 100 minors to establish whether they are related to their potential guardians in Russia.
“This is an ongoing effort, which includes establishing the number of Russian children currently staying to the east of the Euphrates River in Syria,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement released on Friday.
Russia’s Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa and its Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, and Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Anna Kuznetsova co-chaired a meeting of the ad hoc working group on Thursday in Moscow.
Representatives from the Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa Department, Consular Department, and the Information and Press Department also took part in the meeting, where participants reviewed the outcome of the humanitarian mission to repatriate all 122 Russian children who were found to be imprisoned or kept in orphanages in Iraq.
“They were all taken to that country illegally, with their mothers, who are now either under investigation or who have completed court proceedings on accusations of involvement with terrorist organisations,” the Foreign Ministry said.
With efforts now focused on Syria, the working group made its third visit to the embattled nation between Dec. 3 and 6. The trip included a visit to the sprawling al-Hol Camp in the country’s northeast, under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
There are tens of thousands of women and children in camps under SDF control. Most are in al-Hol Camp, a facility built to house 40,000 individuals but currently holding over 68,000, well over 90 percent of which are women and children.
The camp witnessed a sharp increase in numbers of residents as the US-backed SDF launched an offensive to defeat the Islamic State in its last bastion of Baghouz, which ended in March 2019. According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of Nov. 19, roughly 15 percent of al-Hol Camp’s residents are third-country nationals.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had “contacted the Syrian authorities and representatives of the Kurdish armed groups that currently control this camp.”
According to the International Crisis Group, Moscow has chartered flights and brought back over 200 women and children from Syria and Iraq, meting out light sentences, though many hundreds remain.
In March, three Russian children were handed over by the local Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) to a Russian delegation.
The administration has repeatedly called on foreign countries to take back their citizens with connections to the Islamic State. The SDF holds fighters of more than 50 nationalities.
European states, in particular, have been reluctant to bring back Islamic State fighters or women accused of membership in the extremist group, fearing that, due to the lack of evidence, suspects could be quickly released once they appear in court after returning home.
A court in Brussels on Thursday ordered the Belgian government to bring 10 children to the European country for resettlement who were born in Syria to Belgian parents affiliated to the extremist group.
Many Belgian officials have resisted efforts to bring back such children. The court’s decision mandates that the government facilitate their transport within six weeks or pay a fine for each day of delay for every child past the deadline.
Editing by John J. Catherine