MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has repatriated 26 Russian children from Syria and plans to take dozens more home in the future, a Kremlin official said Friday.
Presidential children's rights ombudswoman Anna Kuznetsova visited Syria to organize the effort and met with Syrian President Bashar Assad's wife, Asma, in Damascus.
Kuznetsova said Friday the children aged between 2 and 15 were taken from the al-Hawl refugee camp in northeastern Syria near the border with Iraq. A further nine children from the same camp will be flown to Russia shortly after the necessary formalities are completed, she added.
Kuznetsova said that her office is preparing the repatriation of 73 more Russian children from al-Hawl and another refugee camp and is searching for more. She estimated that up to 240 Russian children could be in Syria.
Most of the children are the offspring of Russian women who married Syrian men and have been living in Syria for some time. There are no plans to repatriate adult Russians who live in Syria.
The Kremlin official argued that the children are in jeopardy because of poor conditions in the refugee camps in war-ravaged Syria, describing the repatriation as a “matter of life or death.”
The effort follows the repatriation of 122 Russian children from Iraq in 2018-2019. Most of those were family members of Islamic State group supporters jailed in Iraq.