France repatriates women and children from camps in north-eastern Syria

The group of 15 adults and 32 children came from prison camps where families of suspected ISIS fighters are held

Al Hol camp, which holds relatives of suspected ISIS group fighters in the north-eastern Hasakeh governorate, in December. AFP
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More than 30 children who were stranded in Syrian camps in areas controlled by ISIS were among a group of women and minors repatriated to France on Tuesday.

The latest return of French citizens included 15 women aged 19 to 56 and 32 minors, the national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office said.

The women were held in custody — some on the basis of earlier arrest warrants — while the children were placed in the care of protective services.

France has taken home women and children from camps in north-eastern Syria in successive waves since the territorial defeat of ISIS in 2019.

Many European countries have been slow to allow the return of women and children from areas where ISIS operated fearing they could turn on their homelands with violence.

More French citizens joined ISIS in Syria than from any other European country and it has been wary about taking them back.

Authorities insisted on repatriating adults and their children on a case-by-case basis, a long and cumbersome procedure that has been criticised by human rights groups.

French authorities have insisted that adults who joined ISIS should be prosecuted in the country where they committed crimes.

The French repatriation follows Spain's decision to accept the return of 13 children and two women who were married to ISIS fighters.

The Spanish women were arrested upon landing in Madrid on January 10 and will be taken before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain's highest criminal court, to answer terrorism charges.

The children were taken into the care of social services in the Madrid area.

Repatriations have been made by the UK, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in the years since ISIS rose to prominence.

Updated: January 24, 2023, 1:27 PM