BAGHDAD (Reuters) - About 1,400 foreign wives and children of suspected Islamic State militants have been moved to a new site north of Mosul, Iraqi authorities confirmed on Monday, dismissing the concerns of aid organizations, who were not warned about the move.
“They were transported to a safe location with better services, in Tal Keif, under the supervision of the Iraqi forces and specialized committees,” said an Iraqi military statement.
Foreign aid officials in Iraq said on Sunday they were “gravely concerned” about the families, who had been held by Iraq since Aug. 30 in the Hammam al-Alil transit camp, south of Mosul.
“These women and children are extremely vulnerable. Regardless of what their family members may be accused of, they have a right to protection and assistance,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement on Monday.
None of the aid groups supporting the families at the camp, including the United Nations, were told in advance about the move, according to the NRC spokeswoman in Iraq, Melany Markham. The women and children were put on buses and taken away, with many leaving personal belongings behind.
Aid officials are asking the Iraqi authorities for unfettered access to the families and calling on foreign governments to act quickly on behalf of their citizens.
“Humanitarian organizations and representatives from their home countries should be allowed to offer to them help,” the NRC said.
More than 300 of the families came from Turkey, many others from former Soviet states, such as Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Russia, according to preliminary figures from the Iraqi army.
Efforts to determine the nationalities of the families continued, said Laila Ali, a spokeswoman for Unicef said. “Thereafter, the family tracing and repatriation process is expected to begin.”
Most of the families had fled to Tal Afar after Iraqi troops pushed Islamic State out of Mosul. Iraqi forces retook Tal Afar, a city of predominantly ethnic Turkmen that produced some of Islamic State’s senior commanders, last month.
It is the largest group of foreigners linked to Islamic State to be held by Iraqi forces since they began driving the militants from Mosul and other areas in northern Iraq last year, an aid official said. Thousands of foreigners have been fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Larry King