Belgium has flown back six Belgian women and their 16 children born to ISIL fighter fathers from a camp in northeastern Syria, according to officials.
The airlift is the largest of its kind by Belgium to bring back the families of ISIL fighters from Syria since the fall of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group in 2019.
All the children are under 12 years old.
The women and children were taken from the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp in Hassakeh across the border to Iraq by road before boarding the plane, a judicial source told the AFP news agency.
“Last night was the final phase of an operation to repatriate 16 Belgian children from Syria accompanied by mothers of Belgian nationality,” Belgium’s federal prosecutor said on Tuesday.
“The military flight landed last night at 1:30am [23:30 GMT],” it said.
Belgium’s RTBF broadcaster reported that the mothers had already been convicted in Belgium of participating in the activities of an armed group. They were handed over to the jurisdiction of the Belgian court services on arrival in the country overnight.
The children were to undergo medical examinations before being handed over to youth protection services.
From 2012 onwards, more than 400 Belgians headed to Syria to fight for the ISIL group, the largest group of European nationals to go.
In March 2021, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said Belgium had to do everything it could to ensure the safe return of Belgian fighters’ children aged under 12.
In July last year, Belgium brought home 10 children and six mothers from another camp in Syria.