An agreement between Syria, Uzbekistan and the Autonomous Administration sees dozens of Uzbek ISIS fighters' family members return to Uzbekistan, in what is the largest mass deportation since the liberation of Baghuz in March 2018.
Certain individuals and jihadist groups from across the post-Soviet space, especially from the Caucasus and Central Asia, have participated alongside ISIS in the civil war in Syria. Although it has been male militants that have largely participated in the military conflict, women and children have also lived within territories held by ISIS or ISIS-affiliated groups in Syria, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The dramatic downfall of ISIS over the past year in Syria has left thousands of wives and children of ISIS militants abandoned and without any means to either remain in Syria or return to their homelands. Uzbek families form a significant proportion of these. The political authorities have thus stepped in so that these individuals would not pose a threat considering their affiliations with ISIS and their current destitute situation.
The issue of repatriation for these families back to Uzbekistan has been coordinated by three political entities: the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (where the families are currently located), the Syrian Government (the entity that controls part of those territories) and the Uzbek Government (the representative of the families’ country of origin).
There are currently around 200 Uzbek women and children that are stranded in IDP camps in the north of Syria, including al-Hol camp. The Autonomous Administration has stated it is seeking the rehabilitation of these families: “The Autonomous Administration wishes to ensure that these children should be transferred, in particular, to a social environment free from terrorism. These children should integrate into society and get rid of the extreme ideas they have been imbued with by ISIS”, noted an official from the region.
The Uzbek Consul in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has assured the authorities that these families will receive psycho-social support in order to facilitate their integration into society and to act as a counter-extremism measure.
Syria has been home to thousands of foreign militants that joined ISIS and other transnational jihadist groups. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have liberated most of the lands previously controlled by ISIS in the northern and eastern regions, including Baghuz, where the aforementioned Uzbek families were found. The local SDF have sought international solutions to the issue of foreign militants and their relatives.