PARIS (AP) — French authorities on Tuesday repatriated 51 women and children from the former Islamic State group-controlled areas in Syria, according to a statement from the national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office.
It’s the single largest return of women and children to France from camps in northeastern Syria since the territorial defeat of IS in March 2019. France saw more of its citizens leave to join the group than any other country in Europe.
Tuesday’s group was made up of 16 women, ages 22 to 39, and 35 minors, seven of whom are coming to France unaccompanied by adults. All but two of the women in the group are French citizens. Twelve women returned with their children and four of the women had previously agreed to the return of their children, according to the prosecutor’s statement.
Eight women were taken into custody for questioning and the other eight were detained on arrest warrants. The children were placed in the care of the child protective services attached to the Versailles Judicial Court.
One of the 35 minors is in police custody on suspicion of participating in activities of a terrorist criminal enterprise, according to the prosecutor’s statement. The minor will shortly turn 18, the statement said.
Many European countries were slow to allow the return of women and children for fear they would violently turn on their homelands. France, which saw more of its citizens join IS in Syria than any other European country and suffered multiple deadly attacks beginning in 2015, has been especially reluctant.
French authorities have insisted that adults, men and women, who fought with IS should be prosecuted in the country where they had committed crimes. Authorities also insisted on bringing back citizens and their children on a case-by-case basis, a long and cumbersome procedure that has been repeatedly criticized by human rights groups.
In December, a 28-year-old Frenchwoman with diabetes died in the Roj camp in Syria, leaving her 6-year-old daughter an orphan, according to the family’s lawyer, who had been requesting their return since 2019.
The orphaned girl was in the group of children repatriated on Tuesday, according to a statement by the United Families Collective, a group of families that has been campaigning for repatriations of women and children detained in the Kurdish-controlled camps of Syria and Iraq.
The United Families Collective hailed the government’s repatriation effort and urged the French authorities to continue bringing home children and mothers trapped in “inhumane” and “degrading” living conditions at the detention camps.
The collective said there were still 150 French children and their mothers trapped in the Roj camp.
“France must repatriate (them) as soon as possible (…) and close this shameful chapter in our history without delay,” the group’s statement said.