WASHINGTON - U.S.-backed Syrian forces have handed over nearly 100 alleged Islamic State fighters held in Syria to the Iraqi government, a local official told VOA.
The senior official with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the transfer took place last week at a border crossing between Syria and Iraq.
The transferred individuals were all Iraqi nationals who had been held in SDF-run detention centers in northeast Syria, the SDF official added.
Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasool did not respond to a VOA request for comment about this matter, but an Iraqi security source confirmed to the French news agency on Sunday that Iraqi detainees were received by Iraqi authorities from Syrian Kurdish forces.
The SDF, a Kurdish-led military alliance, says it currently holds more than 10,000 IS fighters, including about 2,000 foreign nationals. Most of them were captured following the 2019 U.S.-led campaign that destroyed IS’s so-called caliphate in eastern Syria.
There are also 70,000 people, mostly families of IS fighters or sympathizers of the terror group, held in al-Hol Camp and other detention camps in northeast Syria. The SDF says the detainees come from some 60 countries.
There are still 1,600 Iraqi nationals detained in northeastern Syria for their affiliation with IS, the United Nations said in a report released this month.
Calls for repatriation
SDF officials have been calling on countries to take back their detained citizens, warning that they do not have enough resources to keep IS prisoners and their families indefinitely, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
While most governments have not responded to these calls, several countries including the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Finland, and others in Central Asia, have repatriated some of their citizens.
Vladimir Voronkov, head of the U.N. Office of Counterterrorism, also urged countries to repatriate the women and children held in Syria.
The “challenges and risks are growing more serious with neglect, and could have a long-term impact not just in the region but globally,” he told the U.N. Security Council last week, noting that the international community has made “hardly any progress” in addressing the issue of the children and women with suspected links to IS.
U.N. experts say conditions have turned dire at al-Hol and other camps in northeast Syria, warning about the risk of serious diseases among the refugee population.
Violence in al-Hol has increased in recent weeks. Since the beginning of 2021, more than a dozen camp residents reportedly have been killed, most of them Iraqi nationals.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the deaths are linked to a growing IS activity inside the camp.
VOA’s Kurdish Service’s Zana Omar contributed to this report from Qamishli, Syria.