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Turkish Assault On Syria Puts Tajik 'Islamic State' Women In Peril

Hundreds of Tajik citizens, including many women and children, are believed to housed in refugee camps in Syria. (file photo)
Hundreds of Tajik citizens, including many women and children, are believed to housed in refugee camps in Syria. (file photo)

The Turkish military incursion into northern Syria has sparked "fear and panic" in displacement camps that houses thousands of women and children with suspected links to Islamic State (IS), according to Tajik women living there.

Gulnora Orifova, who resides in the Al-Roj camp along with her three young children, says camp residents can hear air strikes and shelling that "make the tents shake."

Speaking to RFE/RL by phone on October 12, Orifova said food supplies were running low at the camp as nearby roads had been closed for the past four days.

"If the situation continues like this, people will starve," she said.

Orifova left Tajikistan for Syria along with her IS-fighter husband five years ago. She ended up in Al-Roj earlier this year after her husband was killed in fighting and IS lost control of its final slivers of territory.

Her hope of returning home has been dashed as Tajik authorities say the Turkish incursion indefinitely postpones efforts to repatriate Tajik citizens.

Maryam, another Tajik woman at the camp, told RFE/RL that Al-Roj was being rapidly cut off from everything.

Maryam, who asked that her full name not be published, said she and her two young children depended on money wired from her relatives in Tajikistan to buy food.

But even money transfers were now impossible, she said. "All vital routes are closed now and food supplies are finishing too."

'Safe Zone'

One of the smallest displacement camps, Al-Roj houses nearly 2,000 women and children who allegedly had links to IS. Among them are some 30 Tajik nationals, including several infants.

Al-Roj is inside the 30-kilometer "safe zone" Turkey wants to create in Syria as its forces continue their attack, which began on October 9.

The Turkish offensive launched last week is aimed at driving away the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that are dug in along the border. The SDF has been the key Western ally in the campaign against IS.

Amid the Turkish assault, Kurdish officials have said they cannot guarantee the security of the camps they guard.

The Kurds say they separately hold more than 12,000 suspected IS fighters, including foreign nationals, in makeshift prisons.

An IS bride carries her child at the refugee camp in the Syrian village of Ain Issa. (file photo)
An IS bride carries her child at the refugee camp in the Syrian village of Ain Issa. (file photo)

On October 13, officials said almost 800 family members of foreign IS fighters had escaped from the Ain Issa camp after it was shelled. Other sources put the number of those who fled at some 100.

Turkey accused the Kurds of deliberately setting free those interned at the camp.

'We Could Be Killed'

The largest of the camps is Al-Hawl, home to some 60,000 women and children with links to IS and some 10,000 other civilians displaced by the conflict.

Authorities in Dushanbe estimate there are some 400 Tajik citizens, including many children, in Al-Hawl.

A Tajik woman who gave her first name as Farishta, told RFE/RL that the Turkish assault had triggered chaos and a humanitarian crisis at the camp.

"We are in complete fear and panic, a bomb could fall on us at any moment and we could be killed," said Farishta, who has four children from two fathers. Both of her husbands were IS fighters killed while fighting.

"We had very little food to begin with, but now that is almost gone," she said.

The Turkish invasion has prompted Tajikistan to postpone a planned trip to northeast Syria by a Tajik diplomat in the coming weeks to begin the repatriation of the Tajik citizens in the camps.

Zubaidullo Zubaidzoda is the Tajik ambassador to Iraq and Kuwait in charge of the operation to return the Tajiks who are stranded in Syria and Iraq.

Zubaidzoda told RFE/RL on October 12 that he won't be traveling to the area until after the clashes between Turkish forces and the Kurds are finished.

Authorities in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan have said they are committed -- in varying degrees -- to repatriating their citizens in Syria and Iraq who are family members of IS fighters.

The three Central Asian countries have brought back dozens of women and children in recent months.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Mumin Ahmadi.
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    Mumin Ahmadi

    Mumin Ahmadi has been a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service since 2008. He graduated from Kulob State University and has worked with Anvori Donish, Millat, Khatlon-Press, and the Center for Journalistic Research of Tajikistan. He was also the editor in chief of Pajwok.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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