The French government on Friday, March 15 it had repatriated five orphaned children of French jihadists’ from camps in northeast Syria, where a five-year offensive against Islamic State is drawing to a bloody close.
The children, aged five or under, were flown home in a military aircraft and placed under medical supervision, the foreign ministry said.
“The decision was taken in view of the situation of these very young children, who are particularly vulnerable,” the foreign ministry said, adding that the government was in touch with their French relatives.
The government thanked the Syrian Democratic Forces, which has spearheaded the fight against ISIS in Syria, with backing from a U.S.-led Coalition, “for their cooperation, which made this outcome possible.”
The mothers of all five children are dead and their fathers are either dead or missing, a diplomatic source said, adding that more children could follow but that no mothers would be allowed return.
France has been adamant that its citizens who fought alongside ISIS in Syria or Iraq must face local justice.
Like many other European countries however it had faced a quandary over what to do with the widows and children of jihadists who died in Syria or been taken prisoner there.
The situation gained urgency as the battle against ISIS enters its final days, with the Syrian forces in charge of the camps where the women and children urging the jihadists’ home countries to take their families back.
While expressing compassion for the children France has been reluctant to be seen helping French women who traveled to Syria to join ISIS and sometimes acted as cheerleaders for the group’s atrocities.
On Wednesday President Emmanuel Macron said the government was taking a “humanitarian” case-by-case approach to the children but that the government’s position on “adult fighters and jihadists who followed IS to the Middle East had not changed.”
“They must be tried in the place they committed their crimes.”
The United Kingdom too has taken an uncompromising stance with female jihadists.
It refused to take back a pregnant British teen, Shamima Begum, who begged to return home, stripping her of her citizenship after interviews in which she appeared to show little remorse for being an ISIS propagandist.
Her newborn baby later died, triggering widespread criticism of the British government’s decision.
With reporting from AFP