Biden pushes for repatriation of IS fighters in Syria

Biden pushes for countries to repatriate IS militants and their families from Syria
2 min read
17 October, 2021
Some 11,000 suspected international IS fighters and 60,000 women and children remain stuck in Syria camps.
There are reports of inhumane treatment at al-Hol camp [Getty]

US President Joe Biden's administration is urging countries to repatriate citizens who are suspected to have fought for Islamic State (IS) in northeast Syria, as some 11,000 suspected fighters and 60,000 women and children remain stuck in camps.

US officials are working with "partner nations [to] rehabilitate and prosecute repatriated militant fighters and relatives", a senior State Department official, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Washington Post.

"We have to continue to make the case that it is a much more dangerous situation for these individuals to stay in northeast Syria than it is to be sent back home," the official added.

Suspected fighters inside these camps are citizens of countries in Europe and the Middle East, and there are fears that if they are not repatriated, along with their families, it may make them vulnerable to further extremism.

There were also reports that people in the camps live in extreme conditions. Two children die every week in Al-Hol, according to Save the Children, and reports by human rights organisations found that the UK "knowingly" exposes young people to torture by refusing to expatriate them.

"Just because it's out of sight and out of mind, which it is for the vast majority of Americans, doesn't mean it's not a very serious problem," added Nathan Sales, who was Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from November 2020 - January 2021.

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Countries in Central Asia and the Balkans have repatriated thousands of mainly women and children nationals from Syria.

European countries are more cautious to bring their nationals home. The UK continues to hold off on returning its citizens, and the government argues that doing so would threaten national security.

Shamima Begum, a British national, had her citizenship stripped after she travelled to join IS in Syria in 2015, after being groomed online as a 15-year-old.

Denmark and Germany have repatriated only a handful of their nationals. The US has repatriated 26 US citizens from Syria and Iraq.