France repatriates 10 children from Syria, foreign ministry says

The Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.
The Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria. Giuseppe Cacace, AFP

The French government said Monday it had repatriated 10 French children of suspected jihadist fighters from a refugee camp in Syria overnight, the latest in a piecemeal repatriation process since the Islamic State group was ousted from its Syrian base in March 2019.


France has carried out the return of 10 French minors, orphans or humanitarian cases, who were in camps in northeast Syria,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“These children have been turned over to French judicial authorities, are receiving medical treatment and have been taken in by social services,” it said.

The ministry did not provide details on their parents.

Since the Islamic State group was ousted in March 2019, France has now repatriated a total of 28 children from Syria: Five in March 2019, 12 in June 2019 and one young girl suffering from a cardiac deformity in April 2020.

Hundreds of French citizens had gone to fight alongside IS group insurgents as they tried to establish a so-called caliphate.

Rights groups have urged the government to quickly bring home at least the minors who were brought by their parents to the conflict zone or born there during the years of fighting.

But many of the estimated 300 French children being held in the Kurdish-run camps in Syria are with their mothers or fathers, and France has insisted that French nationals must face local justice.

Critics say this stance exposes the families of French fighters to inhumane treatment and psychological trauma.

The foreign ministry said Monday it had “thanked” Kurdish leaders for their cooperation in an operation carried out “because of the particularly vulnerable situation these children were in, and with the authorisations provided by local authorities”.

Some 12,000 foreigners – 4,000 women and 8,000 children – are being held at three camps for displaced persons in northeast Syria, most at Al-Hol, where aid groups say they suffer malnutrition and disease.

Kurdish officials have called on countries to take back their detained citizens, warning that they do not have the resources to guard prisoners indefinitely.

According to the CAT terrorism analysis centre, 13 French jihadists including Hayat Boumedienne, the partner of one of the three men who carried out deadly terror attacks in Paris in January 2015, have escaped custody in Syria.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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