Middle East

Austria to repatriate orphan children of female ISIS adherent from Syria

Austria is preparing to repatriate from Syria two young orphans of a female Islamic State supporter in the first such move for Vienna, a government spokesperson said Monday, August 26.

The decision to hand over the boys aged one and three to their grandmother in Vienna was made after positive DNA results and a court granting her custody, according to foreign ministry spokesperson Peter Guschelbauer.

“We have decided to bring back the two orphans, and preparations have started … It is the first repatriation of children from this region,” he told AFP, adding that the process could take several weeks.

The children are now in the crammed Kurdish-run al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria. Their Austrian mother, who went to join ISIS in 2014 when she was 15 years old, is believed to have died.

Guschelbauer said at least three other children could be repatriated later.

Last week, authorities in northeastern Syria handed over to Germany four children from ISIS families, all of them under 10 years old.

Another dozen children of alleged jihadist fighters have been repatriated from Iraq to Germany since March.

France and Belgium have also brought a handful of orphans home, while the United States last year repatriated a woman, Samantha Elhassani, with her four children.

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kosovo have repatriated dozens of women and children.

ISIS overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014 and proclaimed a “caliphate” there, but the jihadist group has since been ousted from those territories.

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.

The autonomous administration in northern Syria has repeatedly warned it does not have the means to put such large numbers of people on trial or even maintain the camp.

Conditions in Al-Hol are dire, and over 200 children under the age of five are known to have died in the camp.

A ticking time bomb: Meeting the ISIS women of al-Hol

With reporting from AFP

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