The former head of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Uzbekistan, Munir Mammadzade, who completed his mission in the country last week, in an interview with brought attention to the fate of women and children who were repatriated from military camps in Syria.

“We are very grateful to the government of Uzbekistan that those were children and women who were identified as victims of circumstances. It is clear that no child chose this fate for themselves, and the women — at least those who were repatriated — they too found themselves in this situation not of their own free will. The decision to unite them by adopting the principles of social integration as a basis was very revealing. This experience has been documented globally as one of the most positive,” he said.

Mr. Mammadzade also noted that up until today Uzbek nationals are still remaining in the Syrian camps. “During my farewell meetings with government representatives, I asked to bring this to an end and return the remaining women and children to the country. Because there have been five campaigns, and God willing with a successful sixth campaign we will be able to complete this work,” he said.

“On average, according to our estimates, which again are not one hundred percent true, not exact, about 200 children and women are still in Syria and require repatriation,” Munir Mammadzade shared the data.

Commenting on the inaccuracy of the data, he attributed it to difficulties in the identification process.

“We have the data. But this data is ambiguous in the sense that there is an identification process going on. Some have dual citizenship — they can be repatriated either to a neighboring country or to Uzbekistan. As for children, (the identification process) is based on motherhood. If the mother is from Uzbekistan, then, accordingly, the child is perceived as (originating from) Uzbekistan.”

Mr. Mammadzade also spoke about the reintegration process for women and children who had returned home during the previous five Mehr operations.

“The reintegration process is quite serious and requires long follow-up due to the fact that we do not have relevant services on the ground: social workers and psychologists who would specialize in such vulnerable groups. This work is carried out with our technical support. We have trained specialists on the ground.”

“We still accompany (repatriants), even though the first campaigns were already several years ago. But this is a category that requires regular interaction, working with them for their full integration in education, employment, and in general adaptation to life or to a new environment. It doesn’t happen that quickly. Many of those who had been returned were able to successfully integrate. But it is a process such that you can’t just „lock with a key,“ go out, say that the problem is solved, they are fully integrated. You have to move forward. This accompaniment is very important work with these people, and at some stage they are already excluded from these programs, where they become full-fledged members of the community, where they can engage in regular activities just like any other citizens of Uzbekistan,” Munir Mammadzade explained.

Earlier, 531 people (women and children) in difficult situations have been repatriated to Uzbekistan from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan during the Mehr-1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 operations since 2019. The last Mehr operation took place in 2021.

Full video interview with a former Representative of UNICEF to Uzbekistan