By Stephanie van den Berg
THEHAGUE (Reuters) – The Netherlands must actively help repatriate the young children of women who joined Islamic State in Syria, a court in The Hague ruled on Monday.
The mothers themselves do not need to be accepted back in the Netherlands, the court said.
Lawyers for 23 women who joined Islamic State from the Netherlands had asked a judge on Friday to order the state to repatriate them and their 56 children from camps in Syria.
The women and children were living in “deplorable conditions” in the Al-Hol camp in Northern Syria, their lawyer had argued.
Judge Hans Vetter said that while the women did not need to be repatriated the state must make “all possible efforts” to return the children, who have Dutch nationality and are under 12 years old. Most are younger than six.
“The children cannot be held responsible for the actions of their parents, however serious these may be,” the court said in a statement. “The children are victims of the actions of their parents.”
The women, however, “were aware of the crimes being committed by IS and must be tried”, it said.
The Dutch government has always insisted it was too dangerous for Dutch officials to go into the camps and find the women and children to return them to the Netherlands.
Around 68,000 defeated fighters of Islamic State and their families are being held in the camp, according to the Red Cross. They are under the custody of Syrian Kurdish forces after they took the jihadist group’s last enclave.
According to figures from the Dutch intelligence Agency, as of Oct. 1 there were 55 Islamic State militants who travelled from the Netherlands and at least 90 children with Dutch parents, or parents who had lived for a considerable time in the Netherlands, in Northern Syria.
Turkey announced last week it would start to repatriate captured Islamic State fighters to their countries of origin even if their citizenship had been revoked.
The Netherlands enacted a law in 2017 that allowed the state to revoke Dutch citizenship for people who joined IS. Dutch media reported that the state has revoked the Dutch nationality of 11 jihadist fighters and is considering the same for 100 others.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague; Editing by Alex Richardson and Ed Osmond)