TASHKENT (Reuters) – Uzbekistan plans to repatriate another group of its citizens, mostly women and children, from Syria where they are staying at crowded camps with other families of Islamic State fighters, an Uzbek government source told Reuters on Friday.
A government delegation from Tashkent has visited the Al-Hol and Roj camps in the Kurdish-controlled part of Syria and met over 100 Uzbeks staying there to discuss their return home, the source said.
Most of those people are women and children under three years of age who “live in deplorable conditions and have difficulties with access to drinking water, food and medical care”, according to the source.
Kurdish fighters have seized much of northern and eastern Syria from Islamic State and have since held thousands of militants in prisons, while their wives and children – numbering tens of thousands – are living in camps.
Al-Hol camp alone houses nearly 65,000 people, including about 28,000 Syrians, 30,000 Iraqis and some 10,000 other foreigners of many nationalities, according to U.N. estimates.
UNICEF said in August eight children had died in al-Hol, where it said children from 60 countries were languishing and COVID-19 infections among camp workers had worsened conditions.
Thousands of people from the predominantly Muslim region of Central Asia, where Uzbekistan is the most populous nation, are believed to have joined Islamic State, with men often bringing their families along.
Uzbekistan repatriated 220 women and children from Syria last year who then enrolled in a programme aimed at their rehabilitation, the government has said.
Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, Editing by William Maclean
Image: FILE PHOTO: Women walk through al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho