At least 130 children from Western Balkan countries are still staying in refugee camps in Syria, set up after the fall of Islamic State, and the process of their repatriation is proceeding very slowly or has been blocked, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) said on Monday.
The network, which specialises in reporting on trials and legal matters, said that in early February the UN called on states to ensure the repatriation of their nationals from overcrowded refugee camps in the northeast of Syria.
An estimated 27,000 refugees – 19,000 from Iraq and 8,000 from other countries, including those in the Western Balkans – are staying in those camps, set up after the defeat of the Islamic State terrorist organisation.
BIRN has collected information which shows that among the 130 children who hail from the Western Balkans and who were taken there by their parents who had joined IS, around 70 are nationals of Bosnia and Herzegovina while about 40 are from Albania.
The last campaign to return Bosnia nationals – including children – from the camps in Syria, was organised in December 2019. At the time, an airlift was organised in cooperation with the US government and 24 people returned to Bosnia, including 11 men who had fought on the side of Islamic terrorists and who were all indicted and have faced trial.
Six women and 11 children arrived in Bosnia at the time as well, and they were included in a special rehabilitation programme.
However, since December 2019 no Bosnian national has returned from Syria and Iraq as part of an organised campaign, and there is also no communication between Bosnian and Kurdish authorities to that effect.
The government of North Macedonia has information that around 20 children are waiting in refugee camps for repatriation while Montenegro has information on two children from that country who are in a similar situation.
North Macedonia in 2020 adopted a national programme for the integration and resocialisation of returnees from Syria and Iraq which is to cover around 150 people, of whom 80 have returned to the country so far, with 27 facing criminal prosecution due to involvement in terrorist activities.
Ten people have returned to Montenegro and they are all under a special supervision regime by the country’s government.
Information is not available on Serbian nationals who were linked with Islamic State, but BIRN estimates that there are at least 20 at the refugee camps in Syria.