France repatriated this Tuesday 35 minors and 16 mothers present in jihadist prison camps in Syria since the fall of the Islamic State organization (IS), announced the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Until now, the authorities advocated a “case by case” policy concerning the possible return of wives and children of French jihadists captured in Iraq and Syria.
This is the first repatriation of women with their children.
The family associations, which welcome this decision, hope that it signs a change of doctrine on the part of the French State.
It has long refused to review its "case by case" policy regarding the repatriation from Syria of wives and children of former fighters of the Islamic State (IS) organization.
But France has finally reviewed its copy.
This Tuesday, 16 French mothers and 35 minors - including 7 orphans -, detained in camps for relatives of jihadists in northeastern Syria, were repatriated to France, in addition to the 126 children already repatriated. by the authorities since 2016.
“It is clearly a change in state doctrine, there had been no repatriation for eighteen months, but we hope that it will continue, that other returns will follow”, confides to
Marc Lopez , a member of the Familles Unies collective, which brings together parents and grandparents of French children still in Syria or Iraq.
Until now, in fact, the executive repatriated only children and under certain conditions: “Unaccompanied minors, orphans, (…) those whose mother accepts the departure”, had declared the French Minister for Foreign Affairs of time, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in February.
Adults – including mothers – should be tried on the spot, Paris believed.
Rain of calls to order
With 80 women and 200 children identified in the Roj and Al-Hol camps in northeast Syria, controlled by the Kurds – where living conditions are “appalling”, according to the UN – France had until today the largest “contingent” in the EU and one of the toughest positions on repatriation.
However, it was not the calls to order that were lacking.
Last February, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the executive to change its doctrine, considering that France was violating the rights of these children.
At the end of April, it was the defender of rights, Claire Hédon, who pinpointed the government, demanding the return “as soon as possible” of all the French children detained in the camps, as well as their mothers, estimating that “every day past (on the spot) endangers the lives of these children exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment”.
A few months earlier, in December 2021, a 28-year-old French woman with diabetes died, leaving a 6-year-old girl orphan.
And the list does not end there.
The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), UNICEF, the Red Cross, the coordinator of French anti-terrorism judges, former Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve or even child psychiatrists… Many are those who have called the bell alarm.
“Ammunition for jihadist propaganda”
Especially since, unlike France, most European countries have chosen for several years to repatriate their nationals.
“At the beginning, other countries had the same line as us.
But after a few months, some, like Germany, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, changed their minds.
We found ourselves alone in carrying out this "case by case" policy, which consisted in sorting out mothers and children", analyzes Arthur Dénouveaux, president of the victims' association "Life for Paris: November 13, 2015", which also campaigns for the repatriation of women and children.
It was Finland that opened the ball in 2019, announcing that it wanted to repatriate all the children.
Since then, Helsinki has organized the return of six women and about twenty minors.
Ditto for our Belgian neighbors, who announced in March 2021 the return of around thirty detained Belgian children, and 21 women “on a case-by-case basis”.
Twelve of them and 26 minors have already been repatriated.
Germany has finally brought back 12 women and forty children since 2019. Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands followed.
Because everyone agrees on one point: "Leaving them is to ensure that they become the terrorists of tomorrow", declared Alexander De Croo, the Belgian Prime Minister, in March 2021. "The jihadists will say " look, we don't give Muslims the same rights as others, we are persecuted, so we have to react", it's very dangerous.
And we don't even talk about the risk of indoctrination in the camps.
Not repatriating them means giving ammunition for jihadist propaganda,” says Arthur Dénouveaux.
“These children are victims of terrorism, of their parents”
Would Paris have heard the message?
"The State seems in any case to have taken note that repatriating minors without their mother is not in accordance with the best interests of the child", considers Marc Lopez, whose four grandchildren are still detained in Roj.
“We are calling for a humanist policy.
To snatch a child from its mother is not possible.
They are victims of terrorism, of their parents, it's a double standard,” adds Arthur Dénouveaux, who continues: “If we manage to take the mothers to court and take care of the children, that should convince us”.
This Tuesday morning, upon their arrival, the 16 mothers were handed over to the French judicial authorities.
“Eight are concerned by an arrest warrant and will be presented to an investigating judge within 24 hours.
The remaining eight, targeted by a search warrant, were placed in police custody, ”explains the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor's Office (PNAT) to
The minors were taken care of by the child welfare services and "could be placed with members of their family when possible", specifies the PNAT.
Our file on Syria
“Even if their mothers are in detention, the children will be able to continue to see them.
It's important for them to rebuild, so that they can have a normal life, a future,” rejoices Marc Lopez, who hopes that other repatriations – including those of his grandchildren – will follow.
In total, about sixty French women and more than 160 children are still in Syrian camps.
Syria: Call by French parliamentarians for the repatriation of 200 children and their mothers
Jihadist Emilie König among women repatriated Tuesday from Syrian camps