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Russia repatriates its lost children as parents are left in camps and prisons

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'At least 3,000 Russian nationals went to fight alongside Isil militants in Syria, and a third of them came from Dagestan, a region of three million.'

'At least 3,000 Russian nationals went to fight alongside Isil militants in Syria, and a third of them came from Dagestan, a region of three million.'

'At least 3,000 Russian nationals went to fight alongside Isil militants in Syria, and a third of them came from Dagestan, a region of three million.'

Six-year-old Sumaya and her teenage sister Zagidat used to mark every day they spent away from their mother on a calendar, hoping for a reunion.

"Six months later, they tore it up, and we spoke no more about it," says their grandmother Patimat Gazimagomedova.

Suymaya and Zagidat (13) have been living with Ms Gazimagomedova in Russia's mostly Muslim region of Dagestan since their return from Isil-run Iraq in February last year. Their mother is in an Iraqi prison.

They are two of hundreds of children Russia is bringing back from squalid prisons and camps in the former caliphate in what could be the world's largest repatriation effort.

While the UK is torn over the future of about 60 British children in a similar situation, Russia is already in the middle of its operation.

At least 3,000 Russian nationals went to fight alongside Isil militants in Syria, and a third of them came from Dagestan, a region of three million. Moscow's original repatriation programme was halted at the end of 2017 after security services argued women who came back with the children were too much of a risk.

So the authorities resumed it a year later, focusing on children.

"Children are not to blame and shouldn't be responsible for the immature choices of their mothers and even their fathers," said Marina Yezhova, Dagestan's ombudsman for children's rights, who has overseen the repatriation of 98 children since 2017.

Dagestan has a list of 1,118 youngsters in Syria and Iraq eligible for return.

The North Caucasus region was a fertile recruiting ground for Isil, with a culture of violence instilled after more than a decade of fighting between Islamic insurgents and federal forces.

Just a few years ago, the government would send in armed police to lock down entire neighbourhoods and raid houses of suspected militants.

Irish Independent