WASHINGTON - Authorities in northeast Syria handed over 34 children of Islamic State fighters in Syria to the Russian government, Kurdish officials said Sunday.
The handover of the children, between the ages of three and 14, took place after a meeting in the city of Qamishli between local officials and a Russian government delegation.
“These were orphaned children whose identities were confirmed through DNA analysis by the Russian side,” said Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations at the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES).
The AANES is a governing body affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance that has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism in Syria.
The parents of the repatriated children, Russian IS fighters, were killed during various stages of the war against the terror group, Omar told VOA.
Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Anna Kuznetsova, said her country will continue efforts to bring back all Russian children held in detention camps in northeast Syria. She spoke during a ceremony held to mark the repatriation of the children.
It is not clear how many Russian citizens currently remain in SDF custody, but local news sources estimated the number of Russian children held in Syria at 200.
Local officials said this was not the first time that Russia has repatriated children born to IS parents from Syria.
“They have so far taken back more than 140 children on at least four occasions,” Kurdish official Omar said.
The SDF says it currently holds more than 60,000 people, mostly families of IS fighters or sympathizers of the terror group, in several other detention camps in northeast Syria. Most of them were captured following the 2019 U.S.-led campaign that destroyed IS’s so-called caliphate in eastern Syria.
In addition to women and children, the SDF holds more than 10,000 IS fighters, including about 2,000 foreign nationals.
SDF officials have called 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 amid a rapid spread of the coronavirus in the region.
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.