France repatriates five young children from camps in Syria

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By Sandrine Amiel
Children at al-Hol displacement camp in Syria, March 8, 2019
Children at al-Hol displacement camp in Syria, March 8, 2019   -  Copyright  REUTERS/Issam Abdallah

Five children were repatriated to France from camps in Northern Syria on Friday, the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The children were aged five and under, the statement said, and they were either orphans or unaccompanied in the camps.

The decision to repatriate them was made with consideration for their "specific vulnerability" and in close cooperation with Western-backed Syrian Democratic forces (SDF), according to the Ministry.

'A first step' for children in Syrian camps

Attorney Marie Dosé, who represents the family of one the repatriated children, told Euronews: "This is a first step but by no means a victory for us. The victory will be when all French children in Syrian camps are back home."

Dosé said it was unfair of the French government to treat orphans differently from other minors. "ALL these children are innocent. They are not responsible for their parent's decision to join ISIS. They haven't asked to die in the camps," she said.

She called upon her country's authorities to end its "case-by-case" policy, adding that it was a matter of urgency: "The more time that passes, the more these children's lives are at risk," the attorney warned.

Adult jihadists to face justice 'where they committed their crimes'

French authorities also said their position regarding French jihadists in Syria of adult age remained unchanged: "They must be judged on the territory where they committed their crimes," the Foreign Ministry statement said.

French government policy so far had been to refuse taking back fighters and their wives. But the upcoming US withdrawal from Syria has forced the European country to rethink its strategy -- notably to avoid losing track of the French jihadists after the US pulls out.

Yet there are still no signs of a clear way forward and the French government has made contradictory statements in recent months, Dosé said.

"This is nonsense," the lawyer said. "The French government's case-by-case policy is completely unheard of. Let's repatriate and judge our own failure at home."

Western nations have been wrestling with how to handle suspected militants and their families seeking to return from combat zones in Iraq and Syria, as the so-called Islamic State group teeters on the verge of defeat.