France will repatriate the children of Daesh fighters, leaving their mothers to be tried in the north of Syria, French officials announced yesterday.
France, is one of several European nations that has been wrestling with how to handle suspected militants and their families seeking to return from combat zones in Iraq and Syria, as well as those in detention, after Daesh militants lost swathes of territory to the international coalition.
While government policy has been to refuse to take back fighters and their wives, it has deliberated over the status of minors.
“French authorities are now entering an active phase of evaluation on the possibility of repatriating minors,” one French official said.
Some 60 women, including 40 mothers with about 150 minors, have been reported in Syria by families in France. The majority of the children are under the age of six. Paris is concerned that if they remain in Syria, they could also eventually become militants.
“It is in the best interest of the children,” said one of the officials.
Preparations are being put into place to repatriate children on a case-by-case basis, including those born in Syria, the officials said. Their return would depend on mothers agreeing to be separated from their children.
The plan was also reportedly suggested to the UK government, but according to diplomats, was not well received. There are currently four British children being held with their parents in north Syria.
“They were worried it would put more pressure on them to take responsibility for their own, which they absolutely don’t want to do,” one official familiar with the issue said.
A senior UK security source also told the Telegraph that the government would not seek to separate children from their mothers: “We would always have an obligation to children if they are British citizens and the Government would seek to keep mothers and children together.”
The first children could return to France by the end of the year, although the complexity of the situation may push the timeline.
Although Paris did repatriate three children belonging to a French woman, who was sentenced by an Iraqi court to life imprisonment for her allegiance to Daesh last December, the case was easier as Baghdad has a functioning legal system.
The north of Syria is currently managed by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up primarily of Kurdish militia driven by a federalist vision for future governance. Earlier this year, the Pentagon announced that the SDF are currently holding nearly 600 foreign fighters from over 40 nationalities in custody, but emphasised that it would not be able to hold them indefinitely.
“As you can imagine, it is a drain on their resources. They are not a policing organisation,” US Army Colonel Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the coalition, said at the time.