A woman sorts used clothing at the al-Hol camp in northeast Syria, January 2020 (AFP)

Germany and Finland have repatriated 23 of their nationals from camps in northeast Syria.

The Germans brought back 12 children and three mothers. Finland returned six children and two women from the al-Hol camp, whose population is largely the families of Islamic State fighters.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the repatriations were “humanitarian cases, primarily orphans and children who were ill – cases in which a repatriation was deemed particularly necessary and urgent”.

The Finnish Government said, “Under the constitution, Finnish public authorities are obligated to safeguard the basic rights of the Finnish children interned in the camps insofar as this is possible. The basic rights of the children interned in the al-Hol camps can be safeguarded only by repatriating them to Finland.”

The Government said more than 9,000 foreign women and children, 2/3 of them children, are held under the guard of the US-supported, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

A Kurdish administration spokesman said the three German women were “wives of jihadists” who “are in very poor health”. One was detained on arrival in Frankfurt. German officials said her husband was a member of the Islamic State’s “secret services”.

“Barbaric” Conditions

Most European nations have resisted repatriation of their nationals. In late November, the charity Rights and Security International reported that up to 35 British children and 15 women are being held in “barbaric” conditions in the al-Hol and al-Roj camps.

The camps have been condemned by rights organizations as overcrowded, rife with illness, and unsanitary, with little running water. RSI claims that 25 detainees are dying each month in al-Hol as they suffer from from malnutrition, dehydration, and hypothermia.

See also UK Government Challenged Over British Women and Children in Syria’s Camps — Report

In October, the Kurdish authorities said they would try to reduce crowding in al-Hol, which has about 65,000 occupants, by removing all non-combatant Syrians.

In September, after representation from Australian officials, all of the country’s nationals were moved from al-Hol to other camps. Two weeks ago, Uzbekistan repatriated 73 children and 25 women from al-Hol and al-Roj.

The UN estimates there are about 30,000 Iraqis and about 10,000 other foreigners in al-Hol. There are almost 40,0000 children from more than 60 countries.