France repatriates five orphan children from Syria camp

France repatriates five orphan children from Syria camp
3 min read
17 March, 2019
France has repatriated five young children of Islamic State group fighters, a controversial move in the country which has largely refused to return its citizens linked to the extremist group.
At least 3,580 children of foreign nationalities are in northern Syrian camps [Getty]

France has repatriated five young children whose parents belonged to the Islamic State group in Syria. The country has said it will not bring back adult IS members, but children would be considered for a return to France on a "case-by-case basis".

Relatives have been pleading with the French government to repatriate the children of IS members, saying that the children did not find themselves in a war zone by choice.

Although the five children are orphans, the move remains controversial in France as the fate of the children's fathers is unknown.

The children traveled to France on an air force plane after being evacuated from camps in northern Syria housing women and children who fled the extremist group's last territory, Baghouz, the foreign ministry said according to the BBC.

Thousands of civilians and fighters have fled the enclave over the past few weeks as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have led a stop-start battle to rid Syria of its last IS-held territory.

The offensive has been prolonged by the need to allow for the evacuation of civilians, but is said to be near its close as only a few hundred IS fighters remain.

France has said that it will refuse to repatriate adult French citizens who joined IS.

"As for adult French nationals - jihadist fighters with Daesh [IS] - France's position remains unchanged: they must be tried on the territory where they committed their crimes - this is a matter of both justice and security", said the foreign ministry.

The five evacuated children will undergo medical and psychological assessments, the ministry added.

Other children could be repatriated "on a case-by-case basis", but their mothers would not be allowed to join them, a French diplomat told AFP.

The UK said last week it would not have been able to repatriate the baby of IS member Shamima Begum citing safety concerns.

"We have to think about the safety of the British officials that I would send into that warzone," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC.

Hunt's comments came a day after Begum's child was confirmed dead by Kurdish officials in Syria. Conditions in the al-Hol camp, to which thousands of women and children have fled from Baghouz, are on "the brink of collapse", according to the Red Cross.

The population of the camp dramatically rose by more than 10,000 people between December and March. 

At least 3,580 children of foreign nationalities are living in three camps for displaced people in northern Syria, Save the Children said on Thursday.

Begum, who ran away from home to join IS when she was 15, was stripped of her citizenship last month.