US repatriates 11 Americans and six Canadian children from Syria

Al-Hol Camp in Syria
Citizens of about 60 countries remain in overcrowded detention camps in northeast Syria [Getty Images]

The US has repatriated 11 of its citizens and six Canadian children from camps in north-eastern Syria, the state department announced.

Ten of the US citizens are reportedly members of a single family. The six Canadians are all children.

Four Dutch citizens and a Finnish citizen were also repatriated by the state department, it says.

About 30,000 people from 60 countries - most of them children - remain stranded in two overcrowded camps in Syria.

The camps, Al-Hol and Roj, are run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which battled the Islamic State group for years until the fall of its so-called caliphate in early 2019.

In a statement on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was the single largest repatriation of American citizens from camps in Syria to date.

A nine-year-old non-US citizen sibling of one of the American children was also resettled in the US, the statement added.

While the Americans were not named by the state department, US media have identified one of them as a Massachusetts-born woman, Brandy Salman, and her nine children now ranging in age from about seven to 26.

They arrived back in the US on Tuesday morning and Ms Salman will live initially with her mother in New Hampshire, according to National Public Radio.

Ms Salman's Turkish-American husband reportedly took the family to Syria in 2016. He was killed and the family was eventually taken into custody by the SDF.

It is unclear where Ms Salman and her family will be resettled, or whether she could face criminal charges.

Some other US citizens who allegedly became members of the Islamic State group have faced charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism, among other charges. Others have not been charged.

The New York Times has reported that two of the children being brought to the US - an American and his non-citizen adopted brother - are the sons of a Minnesota man named Abdelhamid Al-Madioum.

Al-Madioum - a Moroccan-born American - travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State group in 2015.

After being captured by the SDF in 2019, he was returned to Minnesota. In 2021, he pleaded guilty to charges of supporting terrorism.

To date, the US has repatriated 51 of its citizens from Syria.

While Global Affairs Canada has acknowledged that six of its citizens, all minors, had been repatriated, it declined to give any further details, citing privacy concerns.

"The focus is now on protecting the children's privacy and ensuring they receive the support and care needed to begin a new life here in Canada," Global Affairs said in a statement.

A Canadian lawyer working on their file, Lawrence Greenspon, told the BBC on Tuesday that the six are siblings and have been settled together with one family in Canada for the time being.

Last year, Canada offered to repatriate the six children without their mother, which she refused.

Mr Greenspon said their mother is now out of the Islamic State camp in north-eastern Syria where she was at the time and is again seeking authorisation to return to Canada to be reunited with her children.

About 30,000 people from dozens of countries remain in the Al-Hol and Roj camps, where human rights groups have reported abuses and poor conditions.

Others have warned that children raised in the camps are vulnerable to radicalisation from Islamic State militants.

Some countries, however, have resisted repatriating their citizens.

"The only durable solution to the humanitarian and security crisis in the displaced persons camps and detention facilities in north-east Syria is for countries to repatriate, rehabilitate, reintegrate and, where appropriate, ensure accountability for wrongdoing," Mr Blinken said in Tuesday's statement.