HRW urges Tunisia to bring home children of ISIS suspects

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Human Rights Watch on Thursday called on Tunisia to bring home nearly 200 children of suspected jihadists stranded or held in crowded camps and prisons in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

The New York-based rights watchdog welcomed Tunisia's repatriation last month of six orphaned children of alleged Islamic State group members from Libya as a "step toward protecting" their rights.

It said that 36 other children of ISIS suspects remained stranded in Libya, while 160 were believed to be detained in Syria and Iraq.

"Tunisia should move swiftly to follow this positive step with further action to bring home its children trapped in squalid camps and prisons in war-torn countries," said HRW's Tunisia director, Amna Guellali.

"Children should not be punished for the purported crimes of their parents."

The six repatriated children, aged three to 12 years old, had been cared for by the Libyan Red Crescent for several years since the fall of the IS stronghold of Sirte in 2016.

They were welcomed home by Tunisian President Kais Saied, who called for repatriations to be speeded up.

The remaining children in Libya are believed to be held in prisons with their mothers who should also be allowed to return to be investigated in their home country, Human Rights Watch said.

In recent years, Tunisia has been one of the key sources of jihadists who headed to conflicts around the world.

In 2015, the United Nations said that some 5 000 Tunisians had flocked mainly to Syria and Libya to join IS, while authorities in Tunis gave a lower figure of 3 000.

Their return has been a cause of concern in the North African country, which has been under a state of emergency following a string of ISIS-claimed attacks in 2015 and 2016.

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