France repatriates 51 from Syria camps in policy change

Wednesday, Jul 06, 2022

PARIS: France repatriated 35 children and 16 mothers from camps in Syria holding family members of suspected Islamic State jihadists on Tuesday in the largest such operation by Paris after pressure from campaigners.

The French government had long refused mass repatriations of the hundreds of French children detained in Kurdish-controlled camps, dealing with them on a case-by-case basis that rights groups criticised as deliberately slow.

"France has today undertaken the return to the country of 35 French minors who were in camps in northeast Syria. This operation also includes the return of 16 mothers from these same camps," a statement from the foreign ministry said.

It added that the minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings that lawyers expect to lead to their prosecution for terror offences.

One of the women was 37-year-old Emilie Konig, a Muslim convert from northwest France who became a notorious recruiter for the group and urged supporters in the West to carry out attacks, a security source told AFP.

Family members of the returnees said that French officials had entered the sprawling and squalid Roj camp on Monday to select orphans and women with medical problems for the flight home.

"It’s a 180-degree turn from the French government to repatriate women as well. It gives us hope, but there are still a lot of children over there," the aunt of one of the repatriated women told AFP, asking not to be named.