France must rethink the case of IS-linked women who refused re-entry, according to the ECHR

France must rethink the case of IS-linked women who refused re-entry, according to the ECHR

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The European Court of Human Rights has condemned France for its refusal to repatriate French women who traveled to Syria with their partners to join the Islamic State and are currently being held with their children in Kurdish-run prison camps.

The ruling will be closely studied by other countries that still have citizens detained in camps in northeastern Syria, including the UK.

The Strasbourg court – which is not a body of the European Union – has ruled that Paris must quickly review the requests made by the parents of the two women to allow them to return to France with the children they gave birth in Syria. The judges found that France’s refusal to repatriate women and children violated a person’s right to “enter the territory of the state of which she is a national”.

The ruling did not grant a general right to repatriation, but said there should be safeguards against any potentially “arbitrary” decision. He said an independent body should be able to review decisions made about individuals. France had not provided enough reviews to ensure that its refusal to repatriate was not arbitrary. France must now review the cases of women and their children and provide assurance on its decision-making process.

The families of the two French women had argued that their prolonged detention in Syria had exposed them and their children to inhuman and degrading treatment and violated their right to respect for family life.

The two women left France for Syria in 2014 and 2015 when they were 20. Now in their thirties, one has two children aged eight and six and the other has a three year old. They lived in IS territory where they were captured in 2019 and are believed to have since been detained with their children in Syria, in camps including al-Hawl and al-Roj.

Parents who filed a lawsuit for their repatriation to France said malnutrition and disease were rife in the camps. Human rights guardians have warned that people in the camps face hunger, thirst, poor sanitation, inadequate housing and threats of violence and exploitation.

A father who had filed a lawsuit for his daughter told France Inter radio: “I am relieved, because it was a three-year struggle.” He said it was extraordinary that the case should go all the way to the ECHR. He said of his daughter and grandson in the camp: “I hope they won’t spend another winter there.”

France, which has seen more citizens joining IS in Syria than any other European country and which has suffered a series of deadly terrorist attacks that have killed more than 250 people since 2015, has resisted demands from rights groups for years. human beings to repatriate women who had left to join the IS. France considered them “fighters” who should be tried where they have been accused of committing crimes. Paris had argued that citizens who had joined jihadist networks in Syria and Iraq would put security at risk if they returned home.

Related: The UK “colludes in torture” by leaving women and children in camps in Syria

France initially put in place a case-by-case policy to bring children back to France without their mothers. But in recent months Paris has changed its approach. In July, Paris moved to repatriate 16 women and 35 children, some of them orphans, on charter planes. Upon arrival in France, eight women were arrested for questioning and the other eight were detained with arrest warrant. The children were placed in social services.

In reaction to the Strasbourg ruling on Wednesday, government spokesman Olivier Véran cited the repatriations this summer, saying that France “did not wait for the European court’s decision” to “move forward” and that every case would be examined. ” meticulously “.

There are still an estimated 100 French women and 250 children in Syrian prison camps.

This week it emerged that among the returnees in July was the widow of one of the attackers at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November 2015, where 90 people were killed in a rock concert. The woman was accused of association with terrorists.

Most of the women and children in the camps were captured by Syrian Kurdish fighters, ground troops of the US-led coalition against the terrorist group, while fleeing IS territory after the fall of Baghuz in 2019.

The UK has also come under pressure from parliamentarians and human rights groups to repatriate women and children from Syrian camps. So far, the UK has repatriated some children from the camps, but no women.

It is estimated that 15 to 20 people and their families originally from Great Britain are among those detained in northeastern Syria, including some whose citizenship has been removed.

Britain continues to argue that women pose a threat to national security. In the case of some, including Shamima Begum, who left London at the age of 15 with two schoolmates, the government revoked their British citizenship.

Other European countries such as Belgium and Germany have recovered most of their citizens who left to join the jihadist struggle in Syria.

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