Iraqi authorities said Sunday they are holding more than 1,300 foreign women and children, the families of suspected Islamic State jihadists, at a camp for displaced people and expect to repatriate them to their home countries.
The women and children, most from Russia, Turkey and Central Asia with some from European countries, surrendered to Kurdish forces at the end of August after Iraqi fighters drove Islamic State from the northern town of Tal Afar, near Mosul.
Iraqi officials said they are verifying the nationalities of the women, many of whom no longer had their original passports or other international documents.
As Kurdish forces assumed control of Tal Afar, they handed over the women and children to Iraqi forces, while keeping the men, all assumed to be fighters, in their custody.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, which is supporting 541 of the women and their children, said in a statement that Iraq “must swiftly move to clarify its future plans for these individuals. Like all those fleeing conflict, it is imperative that these individuals are able to access protection, assistance, and information. They are in de-facto detention.”
One 27-year-old French woman of Algerian descent told Reuters, “My mother doesn’t even know where I am.” She said she had been tricked by her husband to come with him via Turkey into Syria and then Iraq when he joined Islamic State last year.
“I had just given birth to this little girl three months before,” she said, holding the infant. “He said, ‘Let’s go for a week’s holiday in Turkey.’ He had already bought the plane tickets and the hotel.”
After four months in Mosul, she said she ran away from her husband to Tal Afar in February. She was hoping to make it back to France, but he found her and would not let her leave. She cried as she recounted how her five-year-old son was killed by a rocket in June while playing in the streets.
“I don’t understand why he did this to us,” she said of her husband, who she said was killed fighting in Mosul. “Dead or alive, I couldn’t care less about him.”