Kazakhstan on Wednesday, January 9 said dozens of its citizens, including children, had been evacuated from Syria after being held “hostage” in the country.
Hundreds of Kazakhs have left the Muslim-majority country to join up with militant groups in Syria since 2011, according to Kazakhstan’s security services.
“On January 6 this year … 47 citizens of Kazakhstan, including 30 children, were evacuated from Syria,” Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said.
“They were deceived into going to this country in crisis where they were held hostage by terrorists,” Nazarbayev said.
“We will continue to work on the return of children who [were taken to] a combat zone against their will,” he added, without providing details of the operation.
The Syrian Democratic Forces said on Monday that the hand-over of five ISIS fighters, 11 women and 30 children to Kazakhstan was done after mediation from the United States.
According to Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign affairs in northern Syria, the SDF is holding nearly 900 ISIS foreign fighters from 44 countries, 400-500 of their wives and more than 1,000 children.
In 2014, authorities reacted to an official Islamic State propaganda video showing Kazakh child soldiers training by blocking media outlets that shared the footage.
One such outlet, British tabloid The Daily Mail, only became accessible in the ex-Soviet country late last year.
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.
Thousands from other Central Asian nations and the Caucasus have traveled to Syria to join jihadists since war broke out there as well as hundreds of people from Europe.
In October, officials said France was seeking to repatriate 150 children of French jihadists identified as being in Syria.
Iraq has also urged the home countries of ISIS foreign fighters to repatriate their children. At least 833 children of 14 nationalities are currently in prison in Iraq, according to the Joint Operations Command, which coordinates the fight against ISIS.
The authorities have asked governments to repatriate their nationals, but with a few exceptions such as Russia, Indonesia and Sudan, most have proved highly reluctant.
With reporting from AFP