for the first time, grandparents of French children of jihadists were able to visit them in a camp in Syria

These representatives of the United Families Collective, the association of relatives of French people who left to join Daesh, were able to visit their grandchildren detained in northeast Syria by Kurdish forces at the end of February. They demand their repatriation to France.



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In Camp Roj, northeast Syria, relatives of people suspected of belonging to the Islamic State group are detained [photo d'illustration, le 8 octobre 2023].  (DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP)

“I saw what hell they live in.” After nine years of waiting, Suzanne, a French grandmother, was able to see her grandchildren at the end of February, in the middle of the Syrian desert. They are among the fifty French women and hundred children still detained in northeast Syria by Kurdish forces. These families had joined Daesh and have been locked in a camp for more than five years. Several repatriation operations took place but these jihadist women refused to return to France. For the first time, grandparents, representatives of the United Families collective – the association of relatives of French people who have left to join Daesh – and two lawyers were able to visit them.

“I felt they were really happy to be able to meet ustestifies exclusively for franceinfo Suzanne, upon her return from the Al-Roj camp. The little one, who was born in the camp, immediately sat on my lap and showered me with cuddles. We talked and talked, we had so much to say to each other all these years.”

“These children have suffered enough, there is only one solution: we must bring them back quickly. They deserve to live the life of a child.”

In 2015, Suzanne’s son and daughter-in-law left France to join Daesh. At the time, they had two children, two others were born there. They are now between 5 and 13 years. Since the territorial defeat of the terrorist group in 2019, the siblings have lived in a tent. Her short visit allowed this grandmother to realize the destitution in which her grandchildren live: “In this open-air prison, there is no electricity, no school, no games, no care”she describes.

This meeting, closely monitored by Kurdish guards, lasted several hours. Before leaving, Suzanne was authorized to distribute some school textbooks. “It was heartbreaking to leave them, I will always remember, when we were in the car, we were saying goodbye to them and they were all watching us leave and we left them there, behind this barbed wireshe continues. These children have suffered enough, there is only one solution: we must bring them back quickly. They deserve to live a child’s life.”

“Illegal” detention

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 169 children have been brought back to France since 2019. Around a hundred remain in Syria today. These are minor prisoners of the choice of their mothers who refuse to be repatriated to escape heavy prison sentences in France. “All of these women are the subject of an international arrest warrant and, for the most part, of charges of criminal conspiracy of a terrorist natureexplains the co-president of Avocats sans frontières, Matthieu Bagard, who was alongside Suzanne. In the camps in northeastern Syria, they are detained illegally. Thus, the only solution so that they are not in a situation of denial of justice but also for the victims of acts of terrorism committed in the Iraqi-Syrian zone or in France, is for them to be repatriated and brought to justice in France. .” Legally, Paris responds that it cannot repatriate these fifty women against their will. Northeast Syria, controlled by the Kurds, is not a recognized state. Extraditions are therefore not possible.

But, there, there are also four French people, young men who are asking to return to France. All were taken as children to Syrian territory around ten years ago. Since then, they have become adults and are detained in a prison center. “These teenagers were taken away by their parents at the age of 10-11recalls lawyer Marie Dosé, who was able to meet them. They chose absolutely nothing and are victims, victims of war. What exactly do they pay? Their parents’ fault? One of them, taken at the age of 11 by his parents, knows that his entire family has been repatriated. His mother and his brothers and sisters, without him. He knows them in France today and he finds himself alone, polytraumatized, sick. I don’t understand. We know that France is perfectly informed of their physical and psychological state. What is France waiting for to repatriate them?”

In total, more than 200 French men, women and their children are still detained without trial in northeast Syria. Last July, the French authorities warned that the repatriation operations had been completed.

For the first time, grandparents of French children of jihadists were able to visit them in a camp in Syria. Noé Pignède’s report

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