The YPG, the Syrian wing of the terrorist PKK, holds large numbers of Western citizens in poorly-equipped detention centres.
Families for Repatriation International (FRI), a new network, aims to bring back foreign nationals being kept in detention centres and camps in northern Syria for their alleged links to Daesh. They are urging Western governments to take responsibility for their respective citizens.
But repatriating even children and women, whose fathers and husbands might have been affiliated with Daesh, is not a popular policy across Europe.
More than 65,000 people have been kept for years in these camps where hundreds of people have already died due to poor living conditions. Among them, nearly 3,000 women and 7,000 children are foreign nationals, along with 2,000 men.
In January, despite the fact that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) released a strong statement, urging member states and other European countries to repatriate their citizens, none have made any public moves with this regard.
“The Parliamentary Assembly is appalled by the dire situation of the children in Syria and Iraq whose parents, believed to be affiliated to ISIS/Daesh, are citizens of Council of Europe member States,” the PACE statement said.
“Most of these children are below the age of 12, stranded in squalid camps and detention centres, lacking food, shelter from the elements, access to clean water, medical services and education. They are exposed to risks of endemic violence, exploitation and sexual abuse, trafficking, harassment, as well as radicalisation risks,” the statement continued.
“Girls are especially vulnerable and a gender-sensitive approach and policies must be ensured throughout to mitigate risks and exposure. Many of the children are unaccompanied and/or orphans. With every day passing, more children’s lives will be lost or ruined, unless the member States concerned act without further delay,” the statement urged.
PACE is not alone. Human rights organisations have also sounded the alarm on the deteriorating situation for foreign nationals, supporting the latest initiative of the FRI to repatriate their relatives.
“It took a lot of courage for many of these family members to join an international coalition,” said Letta Tayler, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, referring to the new initiative.
Who are the captors?
Immediate repatriation of prisoners held in those camps is also important for the fact that their captors, the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK, a terrorist organisation according to the US, the EU and Turkey, are not part of any government or legal structure.
Since 2015, Washington has allied with the YPG in the fight against Daesh, creating an umbrella organisation, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is pretty much run by the YPG, to mystify its connection with the terrorist group, angering its NATO ally of Turkey.
In a more worrying sign, the YPG has previously stated that it wants to try alleged Daesh members in its so-called tribunals. But if the alleged members were tried by another terrorist group, that would make the situation even more complicated.
Another problem is how a local group with ties to terrorism can try foreign nationals who should be repatriated and receive fair trials in their respective countries, according to the principles of the rule of law and international law.
Experts and some top officials also think that keeping alleged Daesh members and their families under these conditions would just facilitate another radicalisation process, leading them to seek opportunities to join terrorist groups.