Washington-backed Syrian forces warned Sunday they were struggling to deal with an outpouring of foreigners from ISIS’s disintegrating “caliphate,” calling on their countries of origin to take responsibility for their citizens.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have evacuated nearly 5,000 men, women and children from the jihadist redoubt since Wednesday, moving closer to capturing the last slice of territory under ISIS control.
“The numbers of foreign fighters and their relatives that we are holding is increasing drastically,” Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar told AFP.
“Our current infrastructure can’t handle the mass influx.”
Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly asked foreign countries to repatriate their citizens, but most have been reluctant to allow combat-hardened jihadists and their relatives to return home for security concerns.
At the height of its rule, ISIS imposed its draconian interpretation of Islamic law across a swath of territory straddling Syria and Iraq about the size of the United Kingdom.
But more than four years after ISIS declared a cross-border “caliphate,” the militants have lost all but a tiny patch of land in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
After years of fighting the jihadist group, Syria’s Kurds say they hold hundreds of suspected ISIS fighters and their relatives.
“As thousands of foreigners flee [ISIS’s] crumbling caliphate, the burden, which is already too heavy for us to handle, is getting even heavier,” SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said on Twitter late Saturday.
“This will remain as the biggest challenge awaiting us unless governments take action and fulfill their responsibilities for their citizens,” he said.
No evacuations were reported from the enclave on Saturday, but the two batches of people that left on Wednesday and Friday included Europeans, Iraqis and nationals of former Soviet countries, according to the SDF.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse