Human Rights Watch warns against secret transfers of jihadists and families from Syria

Human Rights Watch warns against secret transfers of jihadists and families from Syria
Human Rights Watch's Nadim Houry has urged France and other countries to repatriate foreign fighters and their families in a transparent manner.
3 min read
08 February, 2019
More than 1,000 foreign nationals have arrived at the al-Hol camp since December [AFP]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged for any transfers of suspected jihadists and their relatives out of Syria to be transparent.

HRW expressed concerns over such transfers happening "in the dark" to AFP on Wednesday.

Nadim Houry, HRW's director of counter-terrorism/terrorim programme, said that HRW or another human rights organisation should ideally be present during any transfers to ensure transparency.

"As we speak, there may already be transfers happening. There’s been a total lack of transparency, and bad things happen in the dark," Houry warned.

Tens of thousands of foreign citizens are estimated to have joined the Islamic State group since 2014, but as the group continues to lose territory to various forces, many are thought to have left Syria in recent years.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls a large swathe of territory in northern Syria and are currently battling to reduce the Islamic State group’s hold on a pocket of territory in eastern Syria, told AFP they were arresting foreign fighters on a "daily basis".

Foreign fighters are being tried in the SDF's makeshift courts under a locally enacted counter-terrorism law. The proceedings do not meet the standard of those in many of the accused fighters' origin countries, as suspects lack defence lawyers and there is no appeals process.

Many of the alleged jihadists' origin countries have refused to repatriate the fighters and try them at home. The UK has refused to take back two suspected members of the so-called Beatles, the group of four British Islamic State group members responsible for the beheadings of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Alan Henning.

The Kurdish administration of northern Syria has urged countries to repatriate their citizens, with the US adding pressure in recent days.

The US-backed SDF is also holding hundreds of women and children born to alleged jihadists in two prison camps in northern Syria. Authorities at the al-Hol camp say they have received more than 1,000 foreign nationals since December. Foreign nationals at al-Hol have not been allowed to speak to reporters.

French sources told AFP that an estimated 50 adults and 80 children could be moved to France soon, but official sources could not confirm the transfer.

Houry, whose team plans to visit camps on the ground, says that French plans have not manifested into "concrete measures on the ground".

Houry urged France not to leave its citizens in "Guantanamo on the Euphrates", and stressed that while HRW was certain that French authorities had a plan for those transferred once they reach France, it was concerned with the "grey zone" between "now and then", especially with regards to children under seven.