WASHINGTON - The German government has brought home three women and 12 children from refugee camps that hold families of Islamic State (IS) fighters in northeastern Syria.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a press release Sunday that he was “relieved” that the German nationals were repatriated in an operation carried out Saturday in cooperation with Finland.
“The repatriation was based on humanitarian grounds and involved (amongst others) orphans and sick children – cases in which a repatriation was deemed particularly necessary and urgent,” Maas said.
“Shortly before Christmas, this is good news and an encouraging sign that we will be able to make repatriations happen in other cases, too,” he added.
Maas did not identify the women, but prosecutors said one of them was arrested upon arrival at the airport in Frankfurt.
German news media reported that all three women face terror charges for their connection with IS.
Contacted by VOA, a Kurdish official confirmed the repatriation of the women and children but declined to give further details.
Local media outlets in northeast Syria reported that a German delegation over the weekend met with officials from the local administration to discuss among other things the situation of German nationals held in Kurdish-run refugee camps in the region.
About 70 adult Germans and 150 children of German parents remain in the custody of Kurdish forces in Syria, according to the German newspaper Bild.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) says it currently holds about 70,000 people, mostly families of IS fighters or sympathizers of the terror group, in several detention camps. Most of them were captured following the 2019 U.S.-led campaign that destroyed IS’s so-called caliphate in Syria.
In addition to women and children, the SDF also has more than 10,000 IS fighters in their custody, including about 2,000 foreign nationals.
SDF officials have called on countries to take back their detained citizens, cautioning that they do not have enough resources to keep IS prisoners and their families indefinitely, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Several Western countries such as the United States, France, Germany, Britain and Finland have repatriated some of their citizens.