Russia to repatriate 106 children from Eastern Syria
Russia says it is planning to repatriate up to 106 children from a camp in eastern Syria that holds refugees and members of ISIS. The Al-Hol camp is infamous as a dumping ground where former ISIS members are crowded with Iraqis, Syrians and others in Syria. There are many radicalized women, particularly western women who converted and joined ISIS in 2014, and who live at the camp which is secured by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The SDF and civilian authorities in eastern Syria have long called for foreign countries to take back their citizens, including ISIS members and their children. The Russian decision comes amid an assessment in Moscow that there is a deteriorating security situation in eastern Syria. This may presage an attempt by Iran or Turkey to oust the US from eastern Syria after the US left Afghanistan in chaos and abandoned partner forces on the ground.
It is not clear how the Russian children got to the camp or who they are related to. Some Russians joined ISIS, particularly Russians from the Chechnya region and other regions in southern Russia where extremists live. In addition, some converts from Russia likely journeyed to join ISIS.
ISIS benefited from some 50,000 volunteers from all over the world. Around 5,000 people from Europe joined ISIS and often were at the forefront of ISIS genocide and war crimes, including enslavement of minorities and beheadings.
It appears the foreign ISIS members were particularly brutal and genocidal because of a history of colonialism and religious and racial extremism that emanated from Europe and mixed with the toxic blend of Islamist ideology that ISIS offered. Iraq and Syria were not their countries, so these foreigners behaved with incredible brutality.
When ISIS was defeated in 2019 there were tens of thousands of women and children found in the remnants of the “caliphate.” Some of the adults had been members, but the children were innocent; some were slaves who had been brainwashed and forced to live under ISIS rule.
Because the international community has done little to help eastern Syria, care for and process the people, or even provide education, access to COVID vaccines or basic psychological and clinical support, the people have been living in squalor at Al-Hol camp. The same European countries that enabled citizens to travel to Syria have often stripped them of citizenship or refused to take back children.
Russia is now stepping up, as several other countries have, such as Kosovo, to take back the children. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Vassily Nebezia, has said the country will repatriate the 106 children.
“In view of the degrading security situation in the camp, we call on colleagues to follow our lead,” the Russian envoy said. Russia has taken back children before, apparently in July. A total of 341 children have returned to Russia. It is important to note that many of these children may be unrelated to ISIS widows or orphans, because there were other Russians and people linked to Russians throughout Syria and Iraq.
Russia is also evacuating some 500 people from Afghanistan in the next few weeks.
The decision by Russia to bring out children from eastern Syria’s Al-Hol may also indicate that Russia assesses the security situation will worsen. Turkey has often wanted to invade this area and ISIS cells also operate in the region. US-Iran tensions are also expected to grow.
Russia may know something that the West does not. This may be the beginning of a new round of chaos in eastern Syria or a coordinated Russia-Iran-Turkey decision to oust the US from eastern Syria, now that the US has left Afghanistan.