In 2019 Kazakhstan repatriated 595 citizens from camps and detention centres in Syria
through Operation Zhusan. Operation Zhusan was a unique effort among the actions taken
by states globally to address the issue of so-called “foreign fighters” remaining in the region.
The majority of repatriates brought back over five phases of the Operation were children
who returned alone or were accompanied by a smaller number of women, and a limited
number of men. Thirty-three men who were repatriated were immediately arrested and
charged with terrorism offences, 13 women were also charged with terrorism offences and
supporting propaganda. The women and child returnees who did not face criminal charges,
who were in the majority, were made the subjects of a rehabilitation and reintegration
programme involving a minimum of a month-long stay at a dedicated rehabilitation centre,
followed by support in the community which is ongoing. The international community is
observing the results in Kazakhstan from a distance, although the long-term outcomes may
not be known for many years. The issue of people being held in camps and prisons in Syria
by Kurdish forces who are non-state actors is an issue that cannot be ignored indefinitely2
The following analysis highlights some of the lessons learned so far from Kazakhstan’s
experience of taking a pro-active rights-based approach.