Kazakhstan said on Friday, May 10 it had evacuated 231 of its citizens, most of them children, from Syria after they traveled or were taken there to join Islamic State.
Thousands from Muslim-majority Kazakhstan, other Central Asian nations and Russia’s Caucasus have traveled to Syria to fight with jihadists since war broke out there in 2011.
The operation to repatriate 156 children and 75 adults took place between May 7 and May 9, Kazakhstan’s presidency said in a statement, without providing details.
The evacuation follows a similar operation in January that saw 43 Kazakhs returned to the country, some of whom were subsequently arrested for extremism-related crimes.
But in the statement on Friday, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev characterized the earlier operation as a success.
“Women abandoned their radical past, got a job, restored ties with relatives. The children went to schools and kindergartens,” he said.
“The influence of destructive false propaganda of terrorists” had persuaded Kazakhs to travel to Syria, he said.
Kazakhstan has hosted a series of talks on Syria brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey since the beginning of 2017.
The talks have featured negotiators from the Syrian regime and armed rebel factions but not militant groups such as ISIS.
The Syrian Democratic Forces has urged countries to repatriate its citizens, but with few exceptions many have been reluctant. Last month Germany repatriated several children of ISIS adherents who were in Iraq.
Earlier this week, seven Swedish children whose parents were killed in Syria were reunited with their grandfather in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq before returning home.
Around 1,000 suspected foreign ISIS fighters are in detention in northeast Syria, in addition to around 9,000 foreign women and children in camps there.
The autonomous administration in northeast Syria has called for an international court in northeast Syria to try ISIS members, but the U.S. says countries should repatriate their own citizens.
With reporting from AFP