“If one day I go back to France, do you think people will be afraid of me? Because I am not a normal child, me… “ On the worn couch of the office he sits in, Asad, voice strangled, wrings his hands feverishly in mid-January. We met this 15-year-old for the first time two years ago, here in northeastern Syria, during a report in this same establishment, a closed educational center run by the Kurdish authorities.
His story is similar to that of many children of European jihadists. Son of Chechen political refugees, he grew up in the Paris region, in Brétigny-sur-Orge (Essonne), went to primary school, has a teacher and friends whom he likes. The life of a child like the others, who considers France as his country and does not imagine his future elsewhere.
But one day in 2015, his father, Chechen refugee in France since 2008, announces to him that they are going on vacation to Turkey, with his two older brothers. And Asad, 9, then a student in CE2, found himself in Syria, in Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State group. What is he doing there? What does he see ? Difficult to know exactly.
He affirms that he was not a fighter and that he did not leave his home. In all the accounts of the children of jihadists, there are large gray areas: for early childhood professionals, the memory of some young people prefers to plunge into the dark to hide the unspeakable.
Asad lived in Raqqa for three years, until his father and brothers died, he said, in a bombing raid. On the advice of local women, the young boy, now alone and without landmarks, decides to surrender to the Kurdish soldiers, who then lead the battle on the front line against the Islamic State group. “I thought that they would call France and that two days later I would have returned home, that I could find my mother who remained there”, he breathes.
The Kurdish army collects the young boy and places him in this educational center closed in February 2018. The Kurds report to France the existence of this child who claims to come from Paris. No answer. It must be said that France’s position on the subject is very cautious, with a return on a case-by-case basis, orphans and patients as a priority. The beginning of a long incomprehensible silence for Asad. In this establishment, which welcomes young Syrians, Franco-Algerians, Turks, all children of combatants, the teachers apply a program of “de-indoctrination”, punctuated by psychology lessons and football matches.
Asad, he has only one idea in mind, from the beginning: to return home, to France. This is what he explains to us when we meet him in December 2018. He begs us to help him find his mother, who has remained in the Paris region.
“On a map of France, I can show you where she is, my mother. And you can go get her.”Asad
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It’s hard to remain insensitive to the distress of this kid with brown hair and sad eyes, lost in this gray and windy plain of northeastern Syria, far from home, victim of the choices of a jihadist father who dragged him into the abyss. That day, we didn’t promise him anything. But, on our return to France, we searched, and succeeded in locating his mother. three weeks later. We showed him the pictures of his son. Under her colorful veil, this Chechen woman wept with joy in silence. She thought her younger brother was dead, like her other sons. She was separated from the father of her children when they left for Syria and claims to have known nothing of the jihadist projects of her ex-husband.
When we returned to this prison in northeastern Syria two years later, and after our requests to the Kurdish authorities, Asad was able to reconnect with his mother by phone. A few minutes, from time to time, to reweave a fragile but precious bond. “When I talk to my mother, I don’t tell her much, I keep everything for the moment when we are together, it’s better “, he confides, his eyes full of hope.
But for the moment, the steps taken by his mother in France to repatriate her son remain in vain given the complexity of the case. “Why doesn’t France take us? Why are we left here? It’s not my home, he says, looking for his words, he who no longer speaks much French. I arrived here on February 2, 2018, it will be three years. I want to live, I don’t want to die here. ”
The problem is that the repatriation of the children of jihadists is a delicate matter for the government. French doctrine is still the same as when Asad arrived in this prison. Only 35 young French people were repatriated. There are still 250 left, mainly in the Kurdish camps of Roj and Al-Hol, in a context where public opinion remains reluctant to a return of these scary children.
And Asad’s situation is inextricable: he is Chechen, his parents’ political refugee status is called into question by the departure of his jihadist father for Syria. His case is therefore far from being a priority. “In the evening I write everything I have in the heart, but then I tear it all apart, because I’m too angry “, he breathes.
Center officials confirm that Asad is increasingly nervous; exhaustion wins him; he can no longer bear the confinement, the unanswered questions, the injustice of his situation. The little boy, who arrived in Syria at the age of 9, is now 15 years old. The age when we contest, where we wonder, where we want to
On his face, the first acne pimples nibble on his cheeks and nose. He would like a cream to cure them because he has some “more and more”. He wants to find his mother so that she takes care of him, that she buys him Puma sneakers and PSG jerseys. He worries about her too. “She doesn’t have the coronavirus, does she?” We reassure him. The teenager, cut off from the rest of the world, is eager for information, he records every little detail that we give him on France, the deaths of the virus, the health crisis, the restrictions. “It’s better to shut everything down in France if that’s the only solution to stop the virus, right?”, he says.
According to center officials, he has the capacity to easily reintegrate in France. He is a thoughtful and calm young man, who no longer wants to hear about life under the Islamic State group, this life he did not choose. And who dreams of the world which is forbidden to him, on the other side of the walls of the center.
“In France, is it beautiful outside?”Asad
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Before our departure, he gives us a gift for his mother: a wallet that he embroidered during a manual education class. The sewn beads draw hearts and an “I love you”, loaded with all the lack that is hers. And the lack of meaning of its existence. The first time we met him, he told us he wanted to work later in a supermarket to sell his favorite chocolate bars, which he missed in Syria.
Today, he sweeps away this still naïve childhood dream: “If I was in France, I would go to school, I would learn a lot of things. Here I am wasting my time… please take me, put me in prison in France if you want, even though I haven’t done anything wrong. I just want to leave. I didn’t want to come to Syria, me. “