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Syrian Kurds hand over IS children to Germany

August 19, 2019

Kurdish authorities in Syria have handed over four children to Germany who had parents that were "Islamic State" fighters. Many EU countries are grappling with how to handle returning foreign fighters and their families.

Syrien Frau und Kind eines vermeintlichen IS Kämpfers in Rakka
Image: Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic

The Kurdish-led autonomous administration in northeastern Syria on Monday handed to Germany four children whose parents were part of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terror outfit, Kurdish sources and a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry said on Monday.  

There are three orphans — a boy, two girls, and a 6-month-old baby girl who is very sick, Abdel Karim Umer, head of foreign relations in the Kurdish administration, told Germany's DPA news agency.

Read more: How a German mining town became a recruiting ground for IS

The Kurdish official said the children have been handed over to a German delegation, and there were negotiations to take one more person, but Umer gave no further details.

This is the first time Germany has taken back Islamic State children from war-torn Syria. The children were living in northeastern Syria's al-Hol camp, home to nearly 74,000 people.

The children were among Islamic State families who had surrendered to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after fierce fighting between the two sides. 

In March, SDF announced the defeat of the Islamic State and seized the militant group's last stronghold in eastern Syria after months of fighting. The fate of foreign Islamic State fighters and their families has become a pressing issue for the SDF. 

Syria: IS family members

A tough challenge

With the collapse of the once expansive IS "caliphate," a number of European nations are facing the challenge of how to deal with returning jihadis and their children. Many EU governments have been wary of repatriating their citizens who went to fight for the caliphate in Syria and Iraq, fearing the political repercussions of bringing back extremists following a series of jihadi-inspired attacks in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Read more: Germany: Horst Seehofer sets terms for repatriating 'Islamic State' foreign fighters

Germany's Interior Ministry estimates around 1,000 people left the European country to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq after 2013. About one-third of these individuals have already returned to Germany, and some have been prosecuted or placed in rehabilitation programs. 

Germany has said it will seek to repatriate its nationals currently being held in the Middle East. The Interior Ministry said it was particularly concerned about the children of fighters, describing them as innocent victims in the conflict.

Germany's Parliament, the Bundestag, in April approved legislation to strip dual nationals of their German citizenship if they join foreign terror outfits. But the law only applies to future cases.

sri/rc (dpa, AFP)

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