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Parents of pro-Kurdish fighters killed in Syria demand return of bodies

Anna Campbell and Haukur Hilmarsson's families call on UK and Icelandic governments to help gain access and information from Turkey
Anna Campbell, a British citizen, was killed in Syria's Afrin alongside Kurdish fighters (handout)

The families of two foreign fighters killed alongside Kurdish groups in northern Syria are calling on their governments to help return their bodies, which are still missing after several months.

British fighter Anna Campbell and Icelandic Haukur Hilmarsson were both killed during the Turkey-led Operation Olive Branch offensive on the area around Afrin city, then held by Kurdish forces, and the pair's parents are worried their bodies could still be lying on the battlefield.

Launched in January, the Turkish assualt on Afrin lasted two months. Cambell is said to have been killed in March, while Hilmarsson is thought to have died in February.

Hilmarsson’s mother Eva Hauksdottir told Middle East Eye that after initial Turkish media reports her son would be returned, she discovered his body had not been recovered at all and was instead sent pictures of unidentified bodies lying in the open.

“I am horrified by this. I want my government and as many governments as possible to question this, to confront the Turkish authorities about this,” said Hauksdottir. “Why have they not collected the bodies and why have they not let Red Cross into the area to search for the bodies?”

Matthew Morris, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, confirmed to MEE that the group has not been given access to the Afrin area by Turkish authorities.

Alongside Campbell’s father Dirk Campbell, Hauksdottir has published a letter calling for the British and Icelandic governments to demand Turkey provide access to or information on where the bodies are buried, if the area has already been cleared.

'This is the least you can do for your fallen citizens'

- The killed fighters' families

“This is the least you can do for your fallen citizens,” the letter said.

Hauksdottir said her son was an anarchist activist who travelled to Syria to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to establish a state and fight the Islamic State group (IS).

She found out he had travelled only after he began fighting in Syria and discovered his death through social media.

“I was very, very anxious for a long time and then this horrible news was shared on social media. They did not inform me. I’m a little bit sad because I thought maybe the YPG would inform me before putting it on social media,” she said.  

'I was very, very anxious for a long time and then this horrible news was shared on social media'

- Eva Hauksdottir, killed fighter's mother

Turkey claims to have “neutralised” 4,448 Kurdish fighters since launching Operation Olive Branch in January, state-funded Anadolu news agency reported.

Turkey sees the YPG as a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

But the Kurdish militia has also formed the backbone of a US-backed alliance that successfully expelled IS from large parts of Syria.

Around 150,000 people fled Afrin as Turkish forces surrounded and then seized the city.

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