Russia repatriates orphans of suspected Islamic State fighters in Syria
Russia has taken custody of 26 orphans of suspected Islamic State (IS) fighters in northeast Syria, and plans to repatriate dozens more, a Kremlin official said.
Anna Kuznetsova, the children's rights commissioner for the Russian president, said the children - aged between two and 17 - arrived in Russia early on Friday after being held at the al-Hawl refugee camp in northeastern Syria.
"Today's 26 repatriated children come from Astrakhan, Dagestan, the Republic of Chechnya, Orenburg and Sverdlovsk region," Kuznetsova told Russia's state-run TASS news agency.
She said that nine more children from the al-Hawl camp would be flown back once the necessary formalities are completed, and added that that her office was preparing to repatriate 73 others.
Kuznetsova estimated that there may be as many as 240 Russian children in Syria. She said the children were in jeopardy because of poor conditions in the refugee camps, and that repatriation was a "matter of life or death".
In 2018 and 2019, Russia repatriated 122 children from Iraq, most of whom were family members of jailed IS group supporters.
The Russian children were approved for transfer after their identities were verified via DNA testing, said Abdelkarim Omar, a senior foreign affairs official with the Kurdish authorities.
Relatives have identified at least 1,779 Russian women and children in Syria and Iraq who want to return to Russia from former IS territory, according to Chechen human rights activists.
Most of the children are the offspring of Russian women who married Syrian men and have been living in Syria for some time.
Russia says it has no plans to repatriate adults who went to live in Syria.
Syria's Kurds have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate foreign IS suspects and their relatives, but many Western countries are hesitant to take them back, citing security risks.