France repatriates 10 women, 25 children from Syria camps
France on Tuesday repatriated 10 women and 25 children being held in prison camps for suspected militants in northeast Syria, the latest return of citizens amid international pressure to bring back all detained nationals.
It was the fourth repatriation operation over the past year for relatives of suspected Islamic State group fighters in Syria and Iraq, the foreign ministry said.
The French government long refused mass repatriations of the hundreds of French children detained in Kurdish-controlled camps, dealing with them on a case-by-case basis that rights groups criticised as deliberately slow.
The minors returned Tuesday will be handed over to child care services while the adults will be handed over to the relevant judicial authorities, the ministry said in a statement.
Three of the women, already sought under international arrest warrants, have been jailed on terrorist conspiracy charges, the country's anti-terrorism prosecutors' office said.
The women had voluntarily gone to territories across Syria and Iraq then controlled by Islamic State group militants.
They were captured when the militant group was ousted from its self-declared "caliphate" in 2019.
The return of family members of the fighters who were captured or killed has been a thorny issue for European countries, particularly in France, which has suffered a wave of militant attacks since 2015.
In France, any adult who went to the Iraq-Syria zone and remained there is subject to legal proceedings in the territories where there were detained.
Just a year ago, France put an end to its "case by case" approach to repatriation, which had earned it condemnation from international bodies.
A total of 16 women and 35 children were brought back to France during the first repatriation operation a year ago, followed in October by the return of 15 women and 40 children.
In January, the foreign ministry announced the repatriation of 15 women and 32 children, a few days after being condemned by the UN Committee against Torture, which 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.
On Tuesday "France thanked the local administration in northeastern Syria for its cooperation, which made this operation possible", the foreign ministry said.
Until the summer of 2022, France had opted for targeted repatriation, namely the return of orphans or minors whose mothers had agreed to renounce their parental rights.
Under this policy, only around 30 presumed orphans had been repatriated by Paris, the last of which at the start of 2021.