Friday March 22, 2019
Home Lead Story France Family...

France Family Wants to Repatriate their Grandchildren from Syria

“The question is whether to repatriate jihadists who left France, burned their French passports, and headed off to associate with Islamist fundamentalists, to become barbarians and strike our country".

0
//
Jihadis
FILE - The families of missing British girls Amira Abase and Shamima Begum pose for a picture after being interviewed by the media in central London, Feb. 22, 2015. VOA

In northern France, Lydie and Patrice Maninchedda have been waging an uphill battle, sustained by local media, to repatriate their three grandchildren from Syria. They have never met the children, ranging from one to five years. Nor has the couple seen their daughter, Julie, since she left with her then-husband to join the Islamic State group in 2014.

Then came an anonymous message last month that Julie was dead — and the grandchildren, now orphans, were detained in a Kurdish camp for internally displaced people.

“It is overwhelming to find them,” Patrice Maninchedda told France Bleu radio, of the three, who are considered by law to be French nationals. “Like all grandparents, we want to see our grandchildren. They need to be reintegrated into a normal life and family.”

The Maninchedda’s hopes may be realized sooner rather than later. The planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria prompted the French government to announce it was considering repatriating dozens of citizens now detained by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the northeastern part of the country.

While some are hardened jihadists or their wives, roughly three-quarters are children under the age of seven, according to French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet.

With the Islamic State group all but territorially vanquished in Syria, U.S. President Donald Trump urged European nations to repatriate captured fighters and put them on trial at home — a demand rejected for now by the French government, while Germany said doing so would be difficult.

Jihadis
FILE – French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet leaves following the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Oct. 17, 2018. VOA

“At this stage France is not responding to the demands” of Trump, Belloubet told France 2 television, saying Paris would consider repatriating French IS fighters on a case-by-case basis. But reports suggest French officials have agreed to repatriate French orphans now in Syria, although those children who are still with their parents are more problematic, and would need parental consent to be separated.

Similar dilemmas are faced elsewhere in Western Europe, from which nearly 6,000 nationals left to join IS ranks, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, at King’s College London. Many died in battle, and more than 1,700 have returned, it estimates.

Repatriating both the fighters and their children is politically explosive. Critics worry it will be difficult to prove in court crimes committed on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, and that the children raised under Islamic State occupation could grow into dangerous adults.

Shaping public opinion too are the 2015 Paris attacks, which involved some returnee fighters.

Jihaids
France’s far-right leader Marine le Pen joins many other politicians in opposing the return of French fighters, saying they should be judged in Syria and Iraq. VOA

“The question is whether to repatriate jihadists who left France, burned their French passports, and headed off to associate with Islamist fundamentalists, to become barbarians and strike our country,” said far-right leader Marine Le Pen in an interview.

“And the answer is no,” she added of the adults. “They should be judged in the places where they committed the atrocities. It’s the very least one can do, out of respect for the victims.”

Le Pen did not offer an opinion on the fate of the minors, describing them simply as “instrumentalized.”

Yet by not taking action, others argue, France risks having jihadis and their families disappear into a turmoil-torn region, posing a potentially serious security threat later on.

Even for children, the challenges of repatriation are massive, experts say. While some may have been sheltered from the fighting, many others are likely brainwashed by jihadi ideology. Still others may have witnessed or participated in horrific acts. Their background may come to haunt them — and France — later on.

“They are children, they aren’t guilty of crimes committed by their parents. And from a humanitarian point of view we must welcome and take care of them,” said sociologist Gerald Brunner, of the Jean Jaures Foundation — even as he warned that dealing with the returnees would be “difficult.”

‘We’d be right to imagine the worst, that they could commit a terrorist act on our territory,” Brunner said, adding, “authorities cannot avoid posing this question.”

Jihadis
Islamist expert Farhad Khosrokhavar says France and other European governments have been slow to act on repatriating children of jihadist fighters. VOA

Until recently, the preferred option was to do very little for the minors — unless their families pressed French authorities for action, said Farhad Khosrokhavar, a sociologist and expert on radical Islam.

“The French government—and one can generalize this to most of the Europeans—they don’t want them back,” Khosrokhavar said, in an interview last year. “Because they are afraid of them, and they know there will be problems.”

Jihadis
FILE – Renu Begum, eldest sister of missing sister of missing British girl Shamima Begum, holds a picture of her sister while being interviewed by the media in central London, Feb. 22, 2015. VOA

Today, repatriation claims involving children are growing, adding to the pressure. In Britain, 19-year-old Shamima Begum is asking to return home with her newborn, four years after joining Islamic State in Syria as a schoolgirl.

In neighboring Belgium, a court ordered the government in December to repatriate half-a-dozen children and their mothers detained by Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

In France, fewer than 70 children had returned as of a year ago out of up to 700 in Iraq and Syria, according to different estimates. Most are under the responsibility of a court outside Paris. Some are placed in foster care; others taken in by their families. Those over 13 who participated in fighting can be detained, according to media reports.

Now, as France is pressed to bring back the rest, experts say there is no easy answer or blueprint to deal with them.

ALSO READ: US States Sue Trump’s Administration for Obtaining Border Wall Funds

“The ideal would be to give them the opportunity to live with their mother and of course follow them psychologically and institutionally in order to deradicalize the mother,” said Khosrokhavar, the Islamist expert. But so far, there seems little appetite for repatriating parents en masse.

Sociologist Brunner suggests applying other examples of indoctrination — including children brainwashed by religious cults — in dealing with the IS minors.

“Nobody is ready for this kind of situation,” he said. “Nobody knows exactly what to do. The only we know is we can’t do nothing.” (VOA)

Next Story

“When I Took Over, It Was A Mess. They Were All Over The Place — All Over Syria and Iraq,” Claims Trump as IS Territory in Syria is Nearly Eliminated

Ciyager Amed, an official with the Kurdish-led SDF, said they were searching for any IS militants hiding in tunnels in a riverside pocket in the village of Baghuz. The SDF has not yet announced a victory over IS. 

0
Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks at Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio, March 20, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the last pocket of the Islamic State’s land in Syria would be liberated by U.S.-backed forces “by tonight.”

Trump previously announced the defeat of the group, but sleeper cells of fighters re-emerged. With no signs of fighting on Wednesday, however, the long-running battle to retake the militants’ last outpost in eastern Syria appeared to have reached its conclusion.

“The caliphate is gone as of tonight,” Trump said in a speech at a factory in Lima, Ohio, where military tanks are assembled.

End of caliphate

The complete fall of Baghuz would mark the end of IS’s self-declared caliphate, which at its height stretched across large parts of Syria and Iraq.

During his speech, Trump held up two maps of Syria — one covered in red representing territory held by the militant group when he was elected president in November 2016 and the other that had only a speck of red.

Donald Trump
Trump previously announced the defeat of the group, but sleeper cells of fighters re-emerged. With no signs of fighting on Wednesday, however, the long-running battle to retake the militants’ last outpost in eastern Syria appeared to have reached its conclusion. VOA

“When I took over, it was a mess. They were all over the place — all over Syria and Iraq,” said Trump, who has said the U.S. will keep 400 troops in Syria indefinitely.

For the past four years, U.S.-led forces have waged a destructive campaign against the group. But even after Baghuz’s fall, IS maintains a scattered presence and sleeper cells that threaten a continuing insurgency.

The militants have been putting up a desperate fight, their propaganda machine working even as their hold on territory has been slipping away. The battle for Baghuz has dragged on for weeks and the encampment had proven to be a major battleground, with tents covering foxholes and underground tunnels.

FILE - A child stands on the back of a truck after being evacuated out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, outside Baghuz, Syria, March 4, 2019.
A child stands on the back of a truck after being evacuated out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, outside Baghuz, Syria, March 4, 2019. VOA

Tens of thousands of civilians

The siege has also been slowed by the unexpectedly large number of civilians in Baghuz, most of them families of IS members. Over past weeks they have been flowing out, exhausted, hungry and often wounded. The sheer number who emerged — nearly 30,000 since early January, according to Kurdish officials — took the Syrian Democratic Forces by surprise.

Ciyager Amed, an official with the Kurdish-led SDF, said they were searching for any IS militants hiding in tunnels in a riverside pocket in the village of Baghuz. The SDF has not yet announced a victory over IS.

Also Read: WHO Claims, Novel Oral Treatment More Effective in Fighting Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis
Associated Press journalists saw SDF soldiers loading women and children into trailer trucks on the hilltop over Baghuz, a sign that evacuations were still underway Wednesday. Black smoke was rising from the village.

On Tuesday, the SDF seized control of the encampment held by IS after hundreds of militants surrendered overnight, signaling the group’s collapse after months of stiff resistance. (VOA)