France brought home 10 French children of ISIL (ISIS) fighters from a refugee camp in Syria, the latest in a piecemeal repatriation process since the armed group was expelled from its Syrian base in March 2019.
Paris has now repatriated a total of 28 children from war-torn Syria, where hundreds of its citizens went to fight with ISIL as it tried to establish a so-called “caliphate” in the Middle East.
“France has carried out the return of ten French minors, orphans or humanitarian cases, who were in camps in northeast Syria,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.
“These children have been turned over to French judicial authorities, are receiving medical treatment and have been taken in by social services,” it said.
The ministry did not provide details on their parents.
Rights groups have urged the government to quickly bring home at least the minors who were brought by their parents to the conflict zone or born there during the years of fighting.
But many of the estimated 300 French children being held in the Kurdish-run camps in Syria are with their mothers of fathers, and France has insisted that French nationals must face local justice.
Critics say this stance exposes the families of French fighters to inhumane treatment and psychological trauma.
The foreign ministry said it had “thanked” Kurdish leaders for their cooperation in a handover operation carried out “because of the particularly vulnerable situation these children were in, and with the authorisations provided by local authorities”.
Some 12,000 foreigners – 4,000 women and 8,000 children – are being held at three camps for displaced people in northeast Syria, most at al-Hol where aid groups say they suffer malnutrition and disease.
Kurdish officials have called on countries to take back their detained citizens, warning they do not have the resources to guard prisoners indefinitely.
According to the CAT terrorism analysis centre, 13 French fighters including Hayat Boumedienne, the partner of one of the three men who carried out deadly attacks in Paris in January 2015, have escaped custody in Syria.