HRW calls on Tunisia to repatriate 'Islamic State-linked' civilians from conflict zones
Tunisian officials have been "dragging their feet" in efforts to repatriate the children of Tunisian Islamic State group fighters currently in camps in Iraq, Syria and Libya, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
The rights group said about 200 children, many six years old or younger, and 100 women claiming Tunisian nationality are being held in "squalid" camps abroad. Most of the children are being held with their mothers, but at least six are orphans.
"Tunisian officials are dragging their feet on helping bring [them] home," the group claimed.
"Legitimate security concerns are no license for governments to abandon young children and other nationals held without charge in squalid camps and prisons abroad," said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at HRW.
Around 2,000 children and 1,000 women are being detained in prisons in Iraq and Libya and three camps in north Syria for ties to the Islamic State group, HRW said. It says Tunisia has "one of the largest contingents".
According to authorities in Tunis, 3,000 Tunisians have gone abroad to join jihadist organisations. The UN claims as many as 5,000 have done so.
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"Tunisian children are stuck in these camps with no education, no future, and no way out while their governments seems to barely lift a finger to help them," said Tayler.
Tunisia's foreign ministry said it was "strongly attached to the values of human rights" and that it would not turn its back on citizens seeking to return home.
However, their return has been a controversial issue in the country since a string of Islamic State-claimed attacks in 2015 and 2016. Tunisians protested against the repatriation of Islamic State group-linked citizens in 2017.
HRW called on France and other countries to be transparent when repatriating Islamic State group-linked citizens from Syria on 8 February. Nadim Houry, HRW's director of counter-terrorism programme, implored France not to leave its citizens in "Guantanamo on the Euphrates".