HRW warns against secret transfer of militants from Syria

Displaced Syrians, including families of militants, at the internally displaced persons camp of Al-Hol in Al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 07 February 2019
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HRW warns against secret transfer of militants from Syria

  • Detention camps in the northeast fill with families of different nationalities

Any transfers of suspected foreign militants and their relatives out of Syria should be transparent, Human Rights Watch told AFP, as camps in the northeast fill with families of different nationalities.

With the crumbling of Daesh, France is now considering bringing dozens of accused French militants, as well as their wives and children, back home from the detention centers and camps run by US-backed forces fighting Daesh.

“We would definitely like to be present (during the transfer), or at least there should be some transparency,” Nadim Houry, HRW’s director of counter-terrorism, told AFP in the northern Syrian town of Amuda late on Wednesday.

“As we speak, there may already be transfers happening. There’s been a total lack of transparency, and bad things happen in the dark,” he warned.

Tens of thousands of foreigners are estimated to have joined Daesh since 2014, but they have streamed out of the militants’ collapsing “caliphate” in recent years.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are bearing down on the shrinking pocket of Daesh territory in east Syria, told AFP they were detaining foreign fighters on a “daily basis.”

The SDF are also holding hundreds of women and children who were born to alleged Daesh militants, including French nationals, in two main prison camps in the north.

Authorities at one of the camps, Al-Hol, say they have received more than 1,000 foreign nationals since fighting against Daesh’s last positions ramped up in mid-December.

On Wednesday, dozens of foreign women and their young children, who had recently arrived from the battered Daesh pocket further south, could be seen waiting in a reception area in Al-Hol.

The women wore black veils covering everything but their blue eyes and called out to their pale, thin children in English and French.

They were waiting to be assigned tents in the cordoned-off section of the camp where foreigners are held, and were not allowed to speak to reporters.

The Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria has spent months calling for the foreigners’ countries of origin to take them back.

Those nations are often reluctant, but the issue has taken on greater urgency amid fears of a security vacuum since US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement in December that US troops would withdraw.

Washington has also begun pressuring countries to repatriate foreigners in recent days.

French sources have told AFP that an estimated 50 adults and 80 children could be brought back to France, but authorities have not confirmed any planned transfer.

“While this debate is taking place in France, it’s not clear it has manifested itself in any concrete measures on the ground,” said Houry, whose team plans to visit foreigners in the camps.

HRW is seeking clarity on the numbers that might return, what route they would be transferred through, and whether children would be separated from their parents.

France has a responsibility not to leave its citizens, including children under seven years old, in legal limbo in a “Guantanamo on the Euphrates,” Houry said.

“We are confident that once they actually hit France, there is a mechanism in place,” he said.

“What we’re concerned about is what is going to happen between now and then. We’re in a grey zone.”


Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

Updated 24 April 2019
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Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

  • Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country
  • The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation

PRISTINA: Kosovo prosecutors have requested the house arrest of 16 women repatriated from Syria, saying they are suspected of joining or taking part as foreign fighters there.

The women appeared on Wednesday in court in Pristina, a day after 10 other women were put under house arrest. None have been charged with a crime.

Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country.

The women and children were sent to the Foreign Detention Centre in the outskirts of Pristina but were freed to go home after 72 hours.

Ten women were seen entering Pristina Basic Court in a police escort on Tuesday. The court said in a statement later that they had been placed under house arrest on charges of joining foreign armed groups and terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq from 2014 to 2019.

The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation and more of them are expected to appear in front of judges on Wednesday. The prosecution has yet to file charges.

After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return to their home countries.

Kosovo's population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but the country is largely secular in outlook. More than 300 of its citizens travelled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and eight children remain in the conflict zones. The government said it plans to bring back those who are still there.

International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

On Saturday, 110 Kosovar citizens — the four alleged foreign fighters, 32 women and 74 children — were returned to Kosovo with assistance from the United States, the first such move for a European country.

Authorities say there are still 87 Kosovar citizens in Syria.