Women walk at a camp for Daesh group-affiliated people in the northern Syrian village of Malikiya near the border with Turkey, walks with a child on September 29, 2018. (File/AFP)
November 01, 2018
PARIS: For dozens of French women detained in Syria, an impossible choice looms: keeping their children in a war zone, or sending them home knowing they might never see each other again.
Like other Western nations which experienced a militant exodus to Iraq or Syria, France is grappling with how to handle citizens left in the war zone following heavy losses for the Daesh group.
Last week, France announced plans to start repatriating an estimated 150 children, many of them being held alongside their mothers by Kurdish forces in Syria following Daesh defeats.
But French officials made clear that the mothers themselves will not be welcomed home.
A few days ago, Nadine — her name has been changed — got a phone call from her daughter-in-law in a Kurdish camp.
The young mother was in tears. “Do I have to abandon my children in order for them to go back to France?” she sobbed.
Nadim Houry, a senior Human Rights Watch official who regularly visits the Kurdish camps, said France’s announcement would “bring an end to an unbearable situation.”
There are no schools or activities for children in the camps, where poor hygiene causes regular bouts of diarrhea, vomiting and skin infections.
Lawyers for the mothers, pushing for the whole families to be repatriated, have complained for months of “deplorable” conditions in the camps.
“My daughter-in-law gets sick a lot, like her children,” Nadine told AFP. “She only weighs 45 kilos (99 pounds).”
Reluctant to bring extremists back onto home soil, France has so far insisted its captured nationals must go on trial locally.
Some 260 adults and 80 minors have already returned to France from Syria or Iraq, and earlier this year French authorities estimated that more than 700 adults and 500 children were still in the war zone.
Several French adults have already been tried in Iraq and their children repatriated.
But in Syria, most of the remaining French nationals are being held in northern Syria in territory which, while under Kurdish control, does not constitute an internationally recognized state.
Kurdish forces have repeatedly insisted they will not try foreign prisoners and have called on the jihadists’ home countries to repatriate them.
With a few exceptions such as Russia, Indonesia and Sudan, most countries have, like France, proved highly reluctant.