KAZAKHSTAN’S REPATRIATION OF ITS CITIZENS FROM ISIS
By Vincent Lyn
I was invited to sit in on a Briefing at the United Nations Security Council — “Kazakhstan’s Experience in Repatriation of its Citizens from Conflict Zones and their Reintegration into Society”. Present were H.E. Mr. Yerzhan Ashinbayev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, H.E. Mr. Kairat Umarov, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations and Speakers — H.E. Ms. Sevil Alirzayeva, Chief of Office, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, H.E. Ms Florence Gaspar, Senior Policy and Political Advisor to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and H.E. Ms. Tasha Gill, Senior Advisor, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. Along with dozens of United Nations Ambassadors and Delegates from many countries including Turkey, Russia and the United States.
First off, I must commend the Republic of Kazakhstan for implementing a successful program in repatriating its citizens majority of whom are women and children from Syria and Iraq held and taken by ISIS. The Humanitarian Operation Zhusan was carried out from January to June 2019, which safely brought home from Syria a total of 595 Kazakh citizens, who were previously involved with ISIS. This number of returnees included over 400 children (of which 31 were orphans). Translated from the Kazakh language, “Zhusan” means “bitter wormwood” — whose fragrance is a symbol of longing for their homeland.
On November 27, 2019, the rescue operation was further carried out, evacuating from Iraq 14 more Kazakh children, between 1 and 13 years old. The underage children were held for over 2 years in the Rusafa prison in Baghdad together with their mothers, who have been accused of perpetuating terrorist activities. Kazakhstan is also in negotiation with the Iraqi authorities to extradite the women who are currently imprisoned there. The Rehabilitation Centre “Akniet” (meaning ‘sacred’), was set up to conduct the necessary rehabilitation and resocialization for the returned citizens. Presently 45 theologians and 17 psychologists are providing expert services in the process. A special rehabilitation program was designed to comprehend the victims understanding and reasoning for following the ideology of “takfir-jihadist”, and to initiate a new process of unlearning.
According to statistics, 50% of women left for Syria following their husbands. A small percentage was enticed by the concept of “romance”, with the desire to marry militants, whom they saw as “courageous men”. Some were attracted to ISIS because they wanted to live according to the Sharia Law, in the “caliphate” declared by the pseudo Salafism. Dealing with remorse is very much a part of rehabilitation. Some 85%, who fled Kazakhstan, now very much regret their decision to leave and the atrocities they committed. Most returnees, more or less, confessed that they belived and trusted ISIS and did not think that such a fate would befall them. However, when the women realized that they were manipulated, they were repulsed by ISIS. Several women from the first batch have secured jobs and are currently working. All children are now reunited with their relatives and attend public school.
Since 2003 approximately 100,000 fighters from at least 80 countries had joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Although the great majority of ISIS recruits come from the Middle East there are also many tens of thousands including most member-states of the European Union, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Thousands of fighters from Russia, Southern Asia, and both North and Sub-Saharan Africa also have joined. ISIS’s recruitment of foreign fighters is a global phenomenon that provides the organization with the human capital to operate outside the Middle East. ISIS numbers have surely been depleted but still approximately there are as many as 20,000 still operating throughout Iraq and Syria
Al-Hawl Refugee Camp in Northern Syria is one of the largest camps of which there are over 70,000 women and children. Many of the male ISIS fighters from that camp have been released by Turkish forces and used as mercenaries to kill the Kurds. In the meantime you have thousands of innocent children from many ethnicities who have been born in the camps and only known of war growing up in the camps. They’ve been subject to the most heinous inhumane treatment and grown up being taught an ideology of hatred to follow the ISIS caliphate. So with that said it brings me back to my above statement of commending the Republic of Kazakhstan for at least attempting and with success to repatriate some of their citizens and expend the time, effort and money to reintegrate them back into society and to find a way of also teaching the society of which they left to not demonize them but to help and simply be humane to love and care for your fellow human being.
Though I was shocked and angered by the many delegates who all hid safely behind their desks reading from their planned speeches that they most likely prepared all night. Everyone patting each other on their backs, it was really quite pathetic and such a travesty. It only confirms just how ineffective the U.N. can be and is truly powerless in doing anything constructive and simply following the bureaucratic procedures that have been placed in front of them. One by one everyone read their prepared speeches fumbling through pages, hemming and hawing going through the motions. It was disgusting on so many levels. Worst of all was having to listen to both the Turkish, Russian and lastly United States delegate — it was painful. The U.S. delegate so proudly said how we’ve repatriated 28 citizens back to America. With ISIS gaining ground and control once again because of the lack of due diligence. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the situation is extremely dire. All countries need to follow Kazakhstan’s example and start to take care of this and right away. There are documented cases of countless children as young as 3 and 4 years old, who have already been indoctrinated to hate. If this is not taken care of a brand new generation of children will grow up with only one directive to kill and slaughter as many non-believers as possible. It will come back to haunt us yet again but far worse. We created ISIS, we funded ISIS and we are all complicit in some way. It’s certainly not the 3 and 4 year olds fault. We’ve created a hornets nest of hate!
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts