Human rights activists confirmed, during a press conference on the fifteenth of this month, that about 200 French children live daily under the threat of death in the Rojava camps, northeastern Syria, where the situation is still tense.
These children spend their third or fourth winter in a row, and some of them are born there. Since Paris allowed the repatriations to begin, only 35 children, most of them orphans, have returned to French custody. This is a number that NGOs consider to be too limited, and therefore, urges faster action.
In this regard, Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, says, “The tents certainly house fighters who were under the banner of ISIS. But on the other hand, there are innocent people who fled the war and took shelter in it, and they can no longer afford it. They must return to their original place of residence. That is why these cases must be tested.”
Maalouf added in a statement to “Sky News Arabia”, “The situation of children is catastrophic in terms of security and humanity. Their lives are terrifying, according to UNICEF reports, whether at the level of nutrition or health.”
According to international reports, these children lack medical care and suffer from malnutrition. They face extreme temperatures of over 40 degrees in the summer and 10 degrees below zero in the winter, spending their childhood surrounded by barbed wire, without education or the simplest of everyday necessities.
France only takes back orphaned children
Regarding the French side’s handling of this situation, and according to official communications, Paris confirmed that priority will be given to orphaned children who do not have parents in these camps.
This matter is considered by the Deputy Director of the Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International as “unfair”, and confirms by saying: “We call on France and all European countries to urgently retrieve their children, whether they are orphans or have mothers, because they are victims of war and a difficult situation. It has been proven that their mothers were involved in crimes against humanity, so they should be tried according to French law, which has all the mechanisms for a thorough investigation.”
A day before this press conference, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated on France 5 that France will continue, as far as possible, to return children of French fighters from northeastern Syria, ruling out any similar measure in favor of adults.
He stated that with regard to minors, “every case will be studied”. He added, “Every time we conduct very dangerous operations. The region is still at war.”
Stagnation amid suffering and death
In the last operation carried out by France in January of 2021, seven children were returned. After that, the case became stalemate, which Lina Maalouf considers “unjustified.”
And she continues in this context, “Sweden recently returned at least 25 children with their mothers. Kazakhstan is one of the first countries to return its nationals. It is true that this did not happen as quickly as we would like, but there is an acceptable response.”
Lynn Maalouf warns that children are dying, and tells that in the attack launched by ISIS last January on a prison where 700 children are being held, many children were killed, including French, while some of them need urgent medical care.
Fear for internal security
For his part, the Director of the European Center for Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Studies, Jassem Muhammad, explained, in connection with the “Sky News Arabia” website, that European countries in general, and France in particular, are dealing with the process of returning these children very cautiously. It investigates criminally and looks into their lineage before allowing them to return.”
Jassim Muhammad explains that if the mother’s involvement in some crimes is proven, some European countries resort to taking children to special homes or placing them with their families. However, if it turns out that the mothers did not commit any criminal act, the children remain with them and the state provides them with programs to prevent extremism as well as psychological and social support.
In this part, psychiatrist Serge Heves, who participated in the press conference, noted that “all the first children he took part in found their families, were integrated into their villages and no one knows their story.”
According to the director of the European Center for Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Studies, the reasons for France’s refusal to return children accompanied by their mothers to its lands are due to its fear of the terrorist threat that these mothers may pose to internal security because they may spread extremism and terrorism.
And he continues, “In fact, I think that the French refusal is related to a political position more than it is technical. Many European governments succeeded in collecting evidence and carrying out technical examinations thanks to the Public Prosecution’s sending commissions of inquiry with a difficult task to the place. However, what we notice is that some parties The French politician believes that the return of fighters will strengthen extremist Yemen at the expense of its popularity in the elections.