France, under pressure from humanitarian organizations, proceeded this Tuesday, January 24 to the repatriation of 15 women and 32 children who were detained in jihadist prison camps in northeastern Syria.
The children of jihadists in the hell of the Al-Hol camp
Among the 47 people repatriated from the camps in Syria are 32 minors and 15 adult women, aged 19 to 56, according to information from “Obs”. Seven of them are the subject of an arrest warrant and will be presented to an investigating judge on Tuesday, said the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT). “The minors have been handed over to the services responsible for child support and will be subject to medical and social monitoring”said in a press release, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which piloted this operation.
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The women and children repatriated on Tuesday, close to jihadists of the Islamic State organization, were in the Roj camp under Kurdish administration, located about fifteen kilometers from the Iraqi and Turkish borders. The French authorities thanked “the local administration of northeastern Syria for its cooperation, which made this operation possible”.
“The end of the case by case”
This is the third major repatriation operation after that of July 5, 2022 when France repatriated 16 mothers and 35 minors and that of October 2022 which had allowed the return of 15 women and 40 children. She “signs the end on a case-by-case basis”reacted Marie Dosé, a lawyer who campaigned for the repatriation of these people. “He is the ultimate demonstration that France is and has always been able to repatriate children and their mothers”, she added. Until the summer of 2022, the French government had opted for the targeted repatriation of orphaned children or minors whose mothers had agreed to renounce their parental rights. But Paris was increasingly under fire from the critics of the relatives and families of these women as well as from certain organizations.
Marie Dosé: “France will have to stop the terrifying sorting between the children it saves and those it lets perish in Syria”
This repatriation operation comes shortly after the UN Committee against Torture condemned France for not having repatriated French nationals from prison camps in northeast Syria. The Committee had been seized in 2019 by the families of these women and children, considering that France, by not proceeding to their return, violated Articles 2 and 16 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading.
The French State, in its observations sent to the UN committee and cited in the decision handed down last week, had justified its repatriation policy on a case-by-case basis, stressing that the Convention did not require a country to protect its nationals in territory which is not under its jurisdiction. However, the Committee considered that if the French State “is not the cause of the violations suffered” by the women and children in the camps, “he always remains under obligation” to protect them “against serious violations of human rights by taking all necessary and possible measures”.
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France had already been condemned in 2022 by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and then by the European Court of Human Rights for its lack of action in the return of women and minors. These French women had voluntarily gone to territories controlled by jihadist groups in the Iraqi-Syrian zone. They had been captured when the Islamic State organization fell in 2019. Many of their children were born in the camps.
Other repatriations soon?
Asked by AFP, the Quai d’Orsay did not specify how many children and women are still likely to be repatriated. According to Me Dose, “There are still orphans and a few mothers who are asking to be repatriated with their children, including a woman with a disability”. About 300 French minors who have stayed in areas where terrorist groups operate have returned to France, including 77 by repatriation, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said in early October during a hearing before the Senate.
Despite repeated exhortations from the Kurdish administration, most Western countries have until now refused to repatriate their citizens from these camps, contenting themselves with repatriations in dribs and drabs for fear of possible terrorist acts on their soil. But legal remedies have multiplied in the countries while in the camps the violence is endemic and the deprivations numerous.
The ordeal of grandparents of children of French jihadists
Thus, Canada announced on Friday that it had agreed to repatriate six Canadian women and 13 children detained in northeastern Syria. In November, the Dutch government returned 12 citizens and their 28 children, the largest exfiltration of jihadist families ever organized by the Netherlands.
In Europe, France appeared more and more isolated while countries such as Finland, Denmark or Sweden had decided to repatriate all of their minor nationals and their mothers.