NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – Over 200 citizens of Kazakhstan, among which 156 children were able to return to their homeland, after having travelled to Syria to join radical terrorist groups involved in that country’s 8-year-old civil war.
“On my instructions, on 7-9 May, 231 Kazakh citizens were evacuated from Syria, including 156 children, mostly pre-school-aged children, 18 of them orphans. This large-scale humanitarian operation was a continuation of Operation Zhusan, which was successfully conducted by Kazakhstan’s First President Nursultan Nazarbayev in January of this year,” the statement from Kazakh President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev read.
Tokayev noted that all repatriated citizens had been rehabilitated, received medical, psychological and social aid, adding, “We can already talk about the positive effect of this work. The women who returned in January of this year abandoned the radical past, got a job, and restored ties with their relatives. The children went to schools and kindergartens,” Tokayev said.
The Kazakh citizens who willingly left for the Middle East and Afghanistan with the intention of joining Islamic extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Nusra decided to take such the drastic step while under the influence of destructive false propaganda that has been spread by these, and other, terror organisations, Tokayev said, adding that now they are returning to Kazakhstan voluntarily in the hope of starting a new life.
“Kazakhstan confirms its commitment to combat terrorism, as well as to provide comprehensive assistance to citizens in difficult situations. The humanitarian operation will continue. None of our people will be left to the mercy of that type of fate,” Tokayev said in the statement while expressing his gratitude to the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Security Committee and other government agencies, as well as Kazakhstan’s international partners who took part in the operation.
In January, Kazakhstan’s security services were able to return 47 men, women, and children from the remaining combat zones in Syria. Many of those who returned to Kazakhstan were held hostage by terrorists and asked for help through their relatives.
The majority of Kazakh citizens left for Syria and Iraq in 2012–2015. It is impossible to calculate the exact number of those who joined extremist groups as they usually travelled without documents and crossed up to four different internationally recognised borders before they reached areas controlled by Islamic extremists.
According to the head of the department of National Security Committee of Kazakhstan, Bakhytbek Rakhymberdiyev, there are still about 380 Kazakh citizens in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria – with them are approximately 400-500 children, some of which were lost after both parents were killed. Last autumn, the Foreign Ministry received unconfirmed information about Kazakh children in Syria whose parents died on the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2012.
“They (children) were illegally taken to conflict zones where they were held hostage by terrorists. Kazakhstan always supports its citizens, regardless of their location. We will continue to work to return children who are being held against their will in areas where combat is ongoing,” Nazarbayev said in January shortly after 47 Kazakh citizens were returned home from war zones.