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Good morning. I am Ian Moss, U.S. Department of State’s Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism overseeing Terrorist Detentions and Countering Violent Extremism (or CVE).

I would like to thank the Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) Working Group co-leads Türkiye, Netherlands, and Kuwait, for convening this working group. I would also like to extend my thanks to my Turkish colleagues for hosting us.

We are gathering at an important time to discuss detained foreign terrorist fighters and their family members in northeast Syria, as well as how to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to conflicts elsewhere in the world.

My remarks will principally focus on the significant humanitarian, human rights, and security challenges posed by detained ISIS fighters in northeast Syria as well as associated family members and other displaced persons in the al-Hol and Roj camps.

I will also provide an update on our repatriation efforts. Safe, secure, and humane repatriations and returns are vital to our shared and continuing D-ISIS mission.

The only durable solution to the dire challenges posed by the detention facilities and displaced persons camps is for countries to repatriate, rehabilitate, reintegrate, and where appropriate, prosecute, their nationals currently residing in northeast Syria.

Approximately 50,000 people, mostly women and children, continue to reside in Al Hol and Roj displaced persons camps in northeast Syria without adequate support like access to health care and education. Over 9,000 individuals from more than 60 countries besides Syria and Iraq can be found in these camps.

Additionally, approximately 9,000 ISIS fighters remain in the custody of a non-state actor. These detained fighters comprise the densest concentration in the world of experienced terrorists or alleged terrorists.

All of this is situated in a fragile sliver of northeastern Syria with an exceptionally uncertain future and with potentially profound consequences for each of our governments and the peaceful societies we aspire to maintain.

Our combined efforts in 2022 facilitated the repatriation of over 3,000 individuals, which was more than the two previous years combined.

This year, we have already facilitated repatriations of over 3,500 individuals – including 2,700 Iraqis and individuals from over 20 countries, including the United States.

Just this past weekend, the Kyrgyz Republic, with U.S. assistance, conducted its third repatriation of the year, having brought home 237 of its nationals, the majority of whom are children.

We should applaud the Kyrgyz Republic for its demonstration of leadership and commitment. They aren’t done either, and together we will work to bring home all their remaining nationals in northeast Syria.

Repatriations are a laborious enterprise, and we applaud all governments who have stepped up to repatriate their nationals. In just the past two months, approximately 1,200 people have left the displaced persons camps.

That includes hundreds of Syrians who have returned to their home communities, supported by the State Department and USAID efforts to keep track of these individuals and connect them to essential services.

Reducing the camp population via repatriations is critical to mitigating the broader instability in the region. That is, of course, why we are working so hard in partnership with many countries to repatriate their nationals as quickly and safely as possible.

We’re not alone. I know there are many governments with nationals in northeast Syria in this room. We must do our part and solve this problem together.

The United States stands ready to assist you.

I know today and tomorrow we will discuss these issues, among others. It’s a complicated problem set, and I appreciate the FTF Working Group’s efforts to address these issues in their regular meetings.

One of the most concerning aspects of this problem is the fact that half of the population in al-Hol and Roj displaced persons camps is under 12 years old. This is a serious issue.

We have a special responsibility with respect to the children. I have visited these camps and can say these camps are no place for children.

Our inaction contributes to the ongoing misery of the 25,000 kids in al-Hol and Roj. There is certainly a moral and political imperative to get them home. The reality is they did not choose to put themselves in this situation, and the power to remove them from this environment rests with us.

If we do nothing and fail to provide them with hope and the opportunities they deserve – the opportunity to go to school, the opportunity to grow up to become peaceful contributing members of our societies – not only do we fail them, but worse, we are complicit in their ongoing deprivation.

If we do not act, we leave them with no options – or maybe one option: remaining vulnerable to individuals who seek to exploit them in service of a twisted and violent ideology.

I also want to speak a bit about the individuals in detention. I noted that we have made substantial progress with respect to repatriating women and children. We have also begun to make some progress repatriating the men in detention, but not at the speed with which we need to make meaningful progress.

I certainly appreciate – and hear frequently from our partners – how challenging this is, but I want to underscore a key message: the United States is committed to helping you and your governments work through the issues that may arise.

Not only can we help facilitate your repatriations logistically, but we can also help once your nationals have returned home.

We are more than open to connecting you with experts who are focused on rehabilitation and reintegration.

For example, one of our civil society partners, the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), which was unable to join us here today to present about its important work, is on the cusp of providing pre-departure rehabilitation and reintegration services and programming to nationals of several governments ahead of their repatriation.

This effort by GCERF will give these individuals a head start on their effort to begin their lives anew once they get home. GCERF is a great partner, and I urge you to both support and engage them, as they likely can aid your rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.

We are also committed to helping provide prosecutorial tools and assistance so that individuals, where appropriate, can be prosecuted and held accountable for crimes they may have committed.

This potentially includes crimes committed while in Syria, or perhaps actions that may be crimes under the domestic laws of other jurisdictions, such as joining a terrorist organization or fighting in a foreign war.

I’d also like to highlight Iraq’s efforts to address this problem set.

On the margins of the UN General Assembly, we held an event co-hosted by the International Institute of Justice and the Rule of Law in which both our Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, Richard Verma, and the Foreign Minister of Iraq Fuad Hussein spoke.

I was really impressed and appreciative of Foreign Minister Hussein’s expressions of commitment to resolving this issue, alongside Deputy Secretary Verma.

I don’t ever want to miss an opportunity to commend the Iraqi government for its sustained commitment to this issue.

Iraq has the steepest challenge of any government given the sheer number of Iraqi nationals in northeast Syria.

The Iraqi government has consistently demonstrated its commitment to repatriating its nationals. And it has done so at a remarkable pace. Just a month ago, approximately 650 Iraqi nationals residing in displaced persons camps returned to Iraq, along with dozens of detainees.

As Iraq continues directly addressing the challenges of repatriation, the international community should continue to support Iraq’s efforts.

The United States is working with other partners to ease the process for individuals to return to their communities of origin. This is an important task that requires deliberate and focused attention and resources as returnees face stigmatization when they return.

Unlike many in other countries that have nationals in NES, Iraqi and Syrian returnees are returning to their communities that were terrorized by ISIS as a physical and occupying presence for a significant period of time.

I am proud to say that this Coalition continues to provide support to these communities of return via its annual Stabilization Pledge Drive.

We encourage all Coalition members to contribute to these critical needs and we, along with the Stabilization Working Group, stand ready to assist in identifying opportunities that align with your countries’ funding constraints.

As I close, I hope everyone hears the call to action for this important and urgent issue.

There are many pressing events unfolding in the world that demand our attention and that of our leaders. But we can’t take our eye off the ball here. We have put too much into the D-ISIS fight to leave it unfinished.

How we address this problem in northeast Syria will inform how we address emerging and future FTF related issues in places like West Africa and the Sahel.

Many around this room, particularly governments represented here, have heard from us, and will continue to hear from us on this issue.

It is critical that remain committed to working together to solve this problem. I am here to answer any questions you have today and throughout the duration of these two days here in Istanbul and moving forward.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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