The autonomous administration in northeast Syria said Wednesday, June 5 that two American women and six children had been repatriated to the United States from a camp housing thousands who fled Islamic State’s “caliphate.”
The repatriation was carried out “at the request of the U.S. government and based … on the free and voluntary desire of the American citizens to return to their country without any pressure or coercion,” North and East Syria Administration spokesperson Kamal Akef said in a statement.
“Several U.S. citizens, including young children, have been safely recovered from Syria and we are assisting them with repatriation to the United States,” a U.S. Department of State spokesperson told The Defense Post.
Al-Hol camp in northeast Syria is home to nearly 74,000 people, among them wives and children of suspected ISIS fighters. According to the United Nations, about 15% of the people living in the camp are not from Iraq or Syria.
Conditions in Al-Hol are dire, and over 200 children under the age of five are known to have died in the camp.
It’s not known how many Americans joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but the FBI estimates that 300 Americans left the United States between 2011 and 2017 with the intention of fighting with both jihadist and non-jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, according to a study by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
The group are the first Americans with ties to ISIS known to be returned to the U.S. since July when Samantha Elhassani, an American woman who traveled to Syria with her husband and children to live in ISIS territory, was transferred home and charged with making false statements to the FBI.
“We take all legitimate claims of U.S. citizenship by individuals in conflict zones seriously, and work to verify and handle those claims on a case-by-case basis,” the State Department spokesperson said Wednesday.
The North and East Syria Administration has called for an international court in northeast Syria to try ISIS adherents, but the U.S. says countries should repatriate their own citizens.
On Monday, the administration turned over five orphan children from a family who joined ISIS to Norwegian authorities, who are expected to repatriate them.
Last week Uzbekistan repatriated 148 women and children from Syria, out of more than 300 Uzbeks expected to be sent home. Earlier in May Kazakhstan said it had repatriated 231 of its nationals, mostly children.
Other countries such as France and Belgium have much larger contingents of nationals still being held by the Kurds in northeast Syria, although France has repatriated some orphaned children.
Some European nationals have been transferred across the border to Iraq, where a Baghdad court this week sentenced the last of 11 French nationals to death on charges of ISIS membership.
With reporting from AFP