PARIS (AFP) – France Tuesday repatriated 15 women and 32 children held in a prison camp for militants in Syria, the foreign ministry said, in the third major return of French citizens from the country.
Rights groups have been pressing for years for France to take back the wives and children of Daesh militants held in the camps, since the terrorist movement was ousted from its self-declared “caliphate” in 2019.
But the government refused a blanket repatriation, saying the return of potentially radicalized Daesh family members would pose security risks in France, which has seen a wave of terrorist attacks since 2015.
Instead it said individual cases would be examined, leading to the first group repatriation of 16 mothers and 35 children from Syria in July 2022, and a further 55 in October.
The women and children returned to France on Tuesday were at the Roj camp in northeast Syria under Kurdish administration, near the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
They were placed with social services and the mothers will be brought before judicial authorities, the foreign ministry said, thanking “the local administration in northeastern Syria for its cooperation, which made this operation possible”.
Lawyer Marie Dose, who represents relatives of those held in several camps in Syria, has said 150 French women and children were living in these camps before Tuesday’s transfer.
Contacted by AFP, the French foreign ministry declined to say how many more women or children might be returned.
Tuesday’s operation came after the United Nations Committee Against Torture last week said that in refusing to repatriate women and minors in Syria, France was violating the UN Convention against torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
In a version of a ruling dated November 16, 2022, shared by Dose, the committee said that “not taking all reasonable measures in its power to repatriate the plaintiffs’ relatives would constitute a violation by a member state of articles two and 16 of the convention”.
French families have been held in the Roj and al-Hol camps in Kurdish-held territory.