France Tuesday repatriated 35 children and 16 mothers from suspected terrorist-associated camps in northeastern Syria. The mothers now face judicial proceedings, while the children will remain in the custody of French child welfare services.
According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 400 French citizens have been arbitrarily detained in northeast Syrian camps and prisons as suspected members of the Islamic State over the past three years. One of the largest camps is al-Hol. Conditions in the camps are incredibly poor and in some cases life-threatening. Human rights groups have called for French authorities to repatriate those detained in the camps, as they are without any ability to challenge the legality of their detention.
France has taken a piecemeal approach to the repatriation of French citizens detained in northeast Syria. A spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry previously described the operation as “complex and dangerous,” citing the fact that France has no effective control over the region. That said, the spokesperson credited the cooperation of local authorities in northeast Syria in Tuesday’s operation and said France remains committed to repatriation efforts. Since 2016, France has repatriated 126 children from the camps.
The 35 children repatriated as part of Tuesday’s operation were taken into custody by child support services where they will receive medical surveillance, while the mothers were taken into custody by the relevant judicial authorities.