Syria: Kurdish officials told AFP on Friday there was no progress on repatriating dozens of French nationals, including accused Islamic State fighters, women, and children, from prison camps in northern Syria.
France announced last month it may bring back some 130 nationals held by the autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Syria after they were caught fleeing shrinking IS-held territory in recent months.
But two administration officials denied any preparations were under way.
“No French authorities have reached out to us about handing over French nationals, whether fighters, women, or children,” said Abdulkarim Omar, who heads the Kurdish administration’s foreign relations commission.
“There’s nothing new on this.”
Badran Jia Kurd, another top official in the semi-autonomous Kurdish government, also told AFP nothing had changed.
“Yes, there have been many statements, but there has not been any progress in negotiations,” he said.
The Kurdish administration has said it was holding hundreds of foreign nationals, but both officials declined to provide accurate numbers.
It has spent months calling on the foreigners’ countries of origin to repatriate them, but the issue has taken on a new urgency since US President Donald Trump announced in December he would pull troops from Syria, prompting fears of a security vacuum in the north.
Pressure has also increased since the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched an assault against IS’s last eastern Syria pocket in December, which has seen foreign nationals stream out of the crumbling “caliphate”.
The Kurds also face the prospect of a major military operation Turkey has threatened to launch against them and they have warned they may then not be in a position to keep large numbers of foreign jihadists locked up.
In two months, at least 1,000 foreign nationals have arrived in Al-Hol, one of two displacement camps where foreigners are being held.
Human Rights Watch has warned that any transfers of foreign nationals must occur transparently.