Syrian Kurds hand over 12 orphans of French ISIS families, say officials

The children were transferred to a government delegation in the town of Ain Issa on Sunday

Civilians evacuated from ISIS's embattled holdout of Baghouz in Syria wait at a screening area held by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. AFP
Civilians evacuated from ISIS's embattled holdout of Baghouz in Syria wait at a screening area held by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. AFP

Twelve orphans born to French ISIS members were flown to an airfield outside Paris on Monday while two Dutch orphans were also set to be handed back to authorities from the Netherlands.

The news, confirmed by the French Foreign Ministry, represents the latest in a small number of women and children who were connected to the militant group in Syria who have been brought back to their home countries. However, hundreds of others – especially military-aged men who joined ISIS – still languish in Kurdish jails as countries grapple with what to do with them.

A delegation from the French Foreign Ministry went to collect the children on Sunday, said Abdulkarim Omar, the top foreign affairs official in the Kurdish administration of north Syria.

Mr Omar said the orphans were transferred in the town of Ain Issa on Sunday, adding that two Dutch children were also handed over to the government of the Netherlands.

The children, the oldest of whom is 10, have been living in camps where tens of thousands of people who fled ISIS are staying.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the 12 French children’s fathers were killed in fighting with the US-backed Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) who led the ground war on the last remaining ISIS territory in Syria. The grinding, monthslong assault came to a head in March near the eastern Syrian town of Baghouz where the SDF overran the final diehard ISIS members who fought to the death. In the final weeks of the campaign, tens of thousands streamed out of the last pocket of ISIS territory and were detained in camps or sent to prisons.

The children arrived around midday at Villacoublay military airport, in the Yvelines department less from 20 kilometres from Paris, French broadcaster BFM TV reported. The children underwent medical examinations before being handed to child welfare.

The French Ministry of the Interior declined to comment when contacted by The National.

The new repatriations bring the total number of children that France has repatriated from Syria to 17.

However, the Dutch Minister of Justice and Security said over the weekend that the Netherlands could not return children due to security concerns in northeast Syria.

BFM TV also reported that nine other French minors are due to be repatriated from Syria to France on Tuesday.

Monday's return of the 14 children comes less than a week after the United States repatriated two children and six women from detention in Syria.

In March, the French government repatriated several orphaned children aged five or under from French ISIS camps in northeastern Syria.

The European country has one of the largest populations of suspected extremists, many of whom were captured in the final stages of a Kurdish-led assault on the last parts of the ISIS proto-state around the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.

Eleven French nationals and a Tunisian with French residency were recently sentenced to death for joining ISIS in Iraq. The government in Paris has been criticised for failing to take them back but French authorities say that they should face justice in the place where their crimes were committed.

Authorities in northeast Syria have been urging European and Asian countries to take back citizens who joined ISIS and their relatives.

Other European countries as well as the Netherlands, including Britain, have been cautious about repatriating children born into ISIS families. The British government has refused to take back the children of foreign fighters from Syria citing security concerns for officials travelling to Syria.

In March, the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We have to think about the safety of the British officials that I would send into that war zone.”

The Al Hol camp is one of the largest refugee camps in northeastern Syria, with a report from the UN showing that nearly 74,000 people live there, with nearly 65,000 individuals having arrived there since December last year.

Wives and children of suspected ISIS fighters are among those in the in Al Hol. With the camp being under the strain, the UN said that $20.8 million of funding would be required to continue supporting the camp until the end of the year.

Updated: June 10, 2019 07:02 PM


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