Kazakhstani diplomats organised the humanitarian action by order of the country’s leadership and by requests of kids’ mothers and relatives.
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On November 27, Kazakhstan returned 14 kids – eight girls and six boys – from Iraq a part of the special operation “Rusafa”. Diplomats and relatives met them at the airport.
Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan
The eldest child is 10 years old, while the youngest one is one year and 10 months. The ambassador at large of the Kazakhstan’s MFA, Stanislav Vasilenko, noted that only two of all kids returned were born in Kazakhstan.
“To prove their Kazakh identity, their DNA should be tested. We found their grandmothers, aunts, uncles here, in Kazakhstan. We tested their DNA and submitted their results to Iraq. They checked everything there. We proved these children were ours,” Vasilenko said.
Raisa Sher, advisor to the minister of education and science on children rights protection, said that four of the returned kids were of school age, yet they didn’t study anywhere.
All of the returned were children of Kazakhstani women, who were in prisons of Iraq. According to the second secretary of MFA, Daniyar Baibekov, they didn’t hesitate to sign all required documents to give their consent to the return of their kids back to the motherland.
“40 persons, including kids, were placed in one prison cell. They have rice and water twice a day,” Baibekov said.
Cameraman Olzhas Berikbaev was a member of the operational group that visited Iraq. According to him, the whole procedure took them a few hours apart from the time of flight.
“At first, we planned to stay there overnight, but when we came there, our plans changed and we spent there about three hours, and then got back. The most difficult moment in these women’s lives was to say goodbye to their kids. Both children and women cried a lot as they knew they won’t see each other ever. It turned out that some children could speak a few languages,” Berikbaev said.
However, this short humanitarian and evacuation operation was preceded by a long work. According to political analyst Yerlan Karin, a group of Kazakhstani diplomats held meetings with the Iraqi judge, migration authorities and arranged all necessary procedures to accept and hand over the kids.
“Along with it, the Kazakhstan authorities developed a detailed plan of evacuation of kids – the destination of the charter flight, coordination of the flight. Apart from diplomats, special medical personnel, including paediatric psychologists, were involved into the evacuation group,” Karin said.
“Live like ordinary people”
Since early 2019, Kazakhstan holds large-scale humanitarian operations to return women and children from combat zones in the Middle East, which were called “Zhussan” (“Sand sage”). The first operation was held this January, and two more were held in May. During this period, over 600 people returned from Syria, including 470 kids.
According to Gulnaz Razdykova, director of the Centre for Analysis and Development of Interfaith Relations of Pavlodar, they created a comfortable and hospitable environment for the returned children, where they could gradually relax and shift from “survival mode” to thinking mode.
“To get them back to peaceful life, the kids were taught to have a daily routine: getting up, morning exercises, breakfast, lessons, lunch, etc. They were doing sport and creative work. At this stage, we saw positive changes in them,” Razdykova said.
According to her, many of the returned adults found jobs, and children were admitted to kindergartens or schools. All of them had their birth certificates restored.
Kazakhstan-based public foundation “Pravo” is rehabilitating children returned from combat zones in its adaptation centres for minors. They have been operating since 2016, and also training and preparing lawyers, psychologists, social workers, developing trainings for teachers and law enforcement officers.
In 2018, the fund received 91 kids from terrorist areas, as well as adults who got back to their homeland voluntarily via the embassy of Kazakhstan in Afghanistan and Turkey. Since January 6, 2019, the public foundation “Pravo” has been rehabilitating kids that were returned as part of operations “Zhussan-1” and “Zhussan-2”.
According to their information, kids from almost all regions of Kazakhstan were in conflict-prone areas. The majority of children were from Uralsk and Atyrau, the minority of kids were from the south.
“Girls that came to us after the first operation live like ordinary people now. We were concerned about their adaptation in our environment, but schools have helped us a lot. Our children took part in national holidays. It means they feel themselves a part of our country,” Olga Ryl, head of the foundation, said.
“A self-confident state”
Today, Kazakhstan is the only country in Central Asia that actively returns its citizens from combat zones in the Middle East.
At the end of April, the authorities of Tajikistan also returned 84 kids back to the homeland from Syria and Iraq territories controlled by ISIS banned in Central Asian states. Mothers of the majority of these kids were in prison.
On May 30, Uzbekistan held a successful humanitarian operation to return 156 its citizens back from Syria. The special operation was named “Dobro” and was held on Ramadan, a holy month for the Muslims.
And on October 10, the humanitarian operation “Dobro-2” was completed with the return of 64 kids from Iraq. Their mothers were reportedly sentenced to lengthy or life sentences for participation in various international terroristic organisations.
Kyrgyzstan, as was reported this September by vice prime minister of the government, Zhenish Razakov, was preparing for the evacuation of 78 kids from Iraq and was holding relevant talks.
In October, the acting under secretary, Nathan Sales, visited Nur-Sultan and noted that Kazakhstan became a global leader regarding repatriation of its citizens from Syria.
“We see that not only the government of Kazakhstan made the best use of all its resources, but so did the private sector and religious authorities, as well as medical workers and psychologists, who help those being rehabilitated. We see that this is a very holistic approach that the rest of the world can take as a foundation,” Sales said during the meeting with journalists (as cited from Kazinform).
There is an opinion that the activity of Kazakhstan in this issue is related to great financial means of the state. According to the research officer of the Institute of Modern Studies of the Eurasian National University, Gabit Konusov, the country’s authorities haven’t engaged foreign donors in humanitarian operations. However, he thinks it’s not about money.
“I think the most important thing we have is a self-confident state. This is what makes it find money, volunteers; and the families of “returnees” stand up for the state. The country develops the system of de-radicalisation, established the religious rehabilitation service that works with the convicts,” Konusov said.
According to him, the civil society of Central Asia needs to support the state’s intention to receive the “returnees”.
This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»