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The presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina has said that “24 people, namely women and their minor children, as well as children without parental care” are living in poor conditions in camps in Syria and Iraq and should be repatriated safely as soon as possible.
The women and children, who, the presidency said, are Bosnian citizens, were previously living in Islamic State-controlled territory until the defeat of the Islamist movement.
The presidency said there was “an urgent need for coordinated action by relevant state institutions in order to ensure the safe return to Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as reintegration, of the 24-person group”.
It adopted the decision to repatriate the women and children on November 29, and the text of the statement was posted on Twitter by Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic on Monday.
Mektic told BIRN that the return of the first group was expected soon and that “a programme for accommodating them in quarantine has been in development for months”.
He said that the Security Ministry has not received a list of people whose return is expected and that domestic institutions are still facing problems in identifying the former residents of the so-called Islamic State.
“Had we received the names earlier, it would have been much easier to check their identity,” Mektic said.
“We have a list of ISIL fighters who must be arrested on their arrival in Bosnia and Herzegovina and handed over to the state prosecution. What if some of those fighters are among the returnees who have not been checked?” he asked.
Alema Dolamic, whose sister is currently at a camp in Syria, told BIRN that she hoped that “this time things will go ahead without problems” after the announced repatriation of some Bosnian citizens from Syria did not happen during the summer because of the Turkish military offensive there.
“We, the families, have waited for long for our state to decide to bring the women and children back. Some of us have waited for two years actually, others a bit shorter, but essentially it is just the same,” Dolamic said.
“All of us are waiting for the moment when we see our family members safe,” she added.
She noted however that those who are being repatriated are only some of the Bosnian citizens living in camps in the Middle East and called for “a solution to be found for all the people” who are stuck in the conflict zone.
Mektic said at the beginning of November that 260 Bosnian citizens were living in camps.
Humanitarian organisations have warned for months that states whose citizens are living in the camps must speed up the process of repatriating them because the living conditions there are becoming tougher, especially for children.
More than 70,000 people are currently living at the al-Hol camp in Syria; over 90 per cent of them are women and children.
The Bosnian state court has so far sentenced 25 men to a total of 47 years and two months in prison for either going to fight in Syria, attempting to go there, or recruiting others to do so.