Red Cross: Some 20,000 Iraqis may return from Syria within weeks

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UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — Nearly 20,000 Iraqis in Syria, including women and children who fled the last enclave of the Islamic state, are expected to return to their country within weeks under an agreement with Baghdad, a senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday.

Thousands of people, including many wives and sons of fighters in the organization, have poured out of the besieged enclave of Baguoz in eastern Syria in recent weeks, forcing Syria’s pro-US democracy forces to delay an offensive to break into the enclave, the latter still under militant control.

Most went to the Hol camp in northeast Syria, where some 65,000 people currently live in the overcrowded camp. Many of these Iraqis fled after the organization lost the territory it controlled in Iraq, for fear of retaliation by the armed Shiite factions.

“There are a large number of Iraqi origin among those who arrived at the Hull camp,” Fabrizio Carboni, regional director for the Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Reuters in Geneva. The figures are not official, but we are probably talking about about 20,000 people, including women and children.”

“The Iraqi government has expressed its desire to return these people, but it is clear that the situation is challenging. These people are considered a security threat, which means that they will have to go through a screening process.”

Carbone said he was not aware of a “formal date” for the massive transition. “But, as far as we are concerned, it is weeks or months.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said most of them were probably civilians, but may include fighters.

The Iraqi army had said two weeks ago that Syria’s democratic forces had already handed over 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees to Baghdad.

Carboni said at least 900 unaccompanied children were among the displaced in the Hull camp and came from Europe, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is in the process of tracking and gathering letters to seek family reunification. Carbone said many of these children saw their parents fall dead.

Governments, particularly in Europe, are struggling to find a way to deal with hundreds of suspected militants who want to return from the conflict zone and with their families, while the shock of the attacks, which the militant group has claimed responsibility for, remains in mind.

“It is clear that we are essentially pursuing a humanitarian approach, and not ignoring the security threats or the political dimension of this return,” Carboni said.

“We understand that it is a difficult issue, especially in Europe, but we believe that the solution will be through the return of these children and mothers, for humanitarian considerations, even if you look at this from a security perspective.”

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