• Kosovar returnees from Syria eager to leave shelter, go home

    By: SYLEJMAN KLLOKOQI, Associated Press

    Updated:
    VRANIDOLL, Kosovo (AP) - Kosovo families waited Monday outside a shelter, trying to talk with relatives who have been repatriated from Syria and are eager to get home.

    On Saturday, 110 Kosovar citizens - four alleged foreign fighters, 32 women and 74 children - were brought back home with the assistance of the United States.

    The return of such a big group is a first for Europe. Experts say getting the families reintegrated into the society will be a hard challenge for Kosovo authorities and the families themselves.

    Hidajete Delia waited for hours Monday morning to meet up with her sister Dafina, 23, and her sister's two little children at the camp in Vranidoll, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Pristina, the capital. She says her sister calls the six years she spent in Syria "hell."

    "When she was 17, my sister was deceived to go there. She has a daughter and a son," said Delia. "She is back and we are so happy. I do not know how to describe our happiness."

    She would not discuss Dafina's husband, except to say that she knew he was killed.

    Other people waiting at the main entrance to the camp were not ready to talk Monday.

    The four alleged foreign fighters have been arrested and sent to a high-security prison. They are charged with joining war zone conflicts and are awaiting trial.

    Authorities say the woman and children will be released from the camp in the next few days.

    Inside the camp, which was guarded by special police forces, medical personnel were seen intensively working with the returnees, while groups of children played behind the wire fences. Nine of the children from Syria are orphans.

    Prosecutors say so far they have charged 119 people from Kosovo for joining extremist groups in Syria and Iraq as foreign fighters, which means they could face up to 15 years in jail.

    Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri, head of a task force handling the operation, has said authorities plan to rehabilitate and reintegrate the returnees into society. Tahiri says the government will "strongly continue to prevent and fight violent extremism and terrorism ... (and) not allow our citizens to turn into a threat to the Western world."

    The U.S. embassy in Pristina has praised Kosovo's government for setting "an important example" in taking back its citizens from conflict zones.

    Since 2012, more than 400 people have left Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim nation, to join extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, but authorities say no one has left in the past three years.

    Authorities say there are still 87 Kosovar citizens in Syria: 30 men who are still actively supporting militant groups and 49 women and eight children related to them.

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    Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

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    Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini

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