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“Children are the anchor that keeps mum alive” is the slogan on a placard at a protest in Tirana to bring children back from from camps in Syria. Photo: Nensi Bogdani/BIRN
Edi Rama announced on Monday that negotiations mediated by the Syrian Red Crescent have secured the imminent return of four Albanian children who have been trapped in refugee camps in Syria for years, as well as one of their mothers.
“We are amidst a complex operation helped by our forces in the field and other forces,” Rama told Top Channel TV.
“The operation is in two phases, after endless secret negotiations took place. With God’s help, we will have four children and an injured mother,” he added.
He expressed hope that more children can be brought back from Syria in the second phase of the operation.
Shortly after Rama’s statement, the Syrian Red Crescent published photos on Twitter showing the children leaving the al-Hawl refugee camp. It said it had acted after receiving a request from the government of Albania.
“We need to continue such humanitarian operations for vulnerable families,” Hossam Elsharkawi, regional director of the Red Cross/Crescent, wrote on Twitter.
“The children are being transferred to Damascus before returning home,” he added.
About 51 Albanian children have been trapped in Syria since the onset of the civil war after their parents joined Islamic State or other extremist groups there.
Many of them live in the al-Hawl refugee camp, which is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Tens of thousands of people live in the camp and humanitarian organisations have warned that the already poor conditions there have been deteriorating.
Relatives of the children protested in Tirana earlier this year, demanding more efforts by the government to bring them home.
Some 140 Albanians from Albania are known to have joined Islamic State or other militant groups in Syria.