Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria on Wednesday handed over 148 Uzbek women and children linked to ISIS extremist group to diplomats from the Central Asian country for repatriation, officials said.
In total more than 300 Uzbeks were due to be sent home, spokesman Kamal Akef told AFP, as the Kurds look to transfer away thousands of foreign extremists trapped in camps following the defeat of the ISIS “caliphate” by US-backed forces.
Hundreds of Uzbeks are believed to have joined militants fighting in Iraq and Syria including ISIS.
Suspected ISIS fighters from the country who surrendered or were caught fleeing the extremists’ last redoubt are still being held in Kurdish-run jails.
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The women and children on Wednesday arrived in the Kurdish town of Qamishli on large white buses, an AFP correspondent said.
From behind the vehicle’s blue drapes, some women pointed their index fingers to the sky in a gesture used by Islamists.
The group, including some 90 children, would be taken by plane to Russia’s air base in Syria, from where they would then be transported to Uzbekistan, Akef said.
A second batch of Uzbek women and children would be sent in the coming days, he said.
Syria’s Kurds have long urged the international community to support the repatriation of the foreign ISIS fighters and their relatives they are holding.
Many of their countries of origin have been reluctant to repatriate them or put them on trial at home.
The largest repatriation effort by a European country so far saw Kosovo in April take back 110 of its nationals from Syria - mostly the wives and children of ISIS fighters.
In May Central Asian Kazakhstan said it had repatriated 231 of its nationals, mostly children.