Crime & Justice

A grandfather’s struggle to repatriate his French grandchildren from Syria

By Antonio Torres del Cerro

Paris, Feb 19 (EFE).- M. López shows a photo of his four grandchildren. Aged between three and 11, they are being held at Syria’s Roj camp as a consequence of their parents’ decision to join the Islamic State terror organization in 2015.

There are another 200 French children at the Kurdish-controlled camp in northeastern Syria, waiting to be repatriated, a move that France is postponing.

“They have been in the camp for three and a half years, with their mother. They are 3, 5, 7 and 11 years old,” said Lopez, who spoke with Efe at his Paris apartment.

“At the beginning of 2019, there was a plan to repatriate them, along with the rest of the French (children), but (President) Emmanuel Macron stopped it at the last moment,” he added.

France, traumatized by terrorists attacks on its soil in 2015 and 2016, is one of the European Union countries most reluctant to repatriate its citizens from Syrian detention camps.

Only 35 have been repatriated since 2019, including just seven last year, a much slower pace than other European countries.

The international community considers these children as collateral victims of the IS, as they did not choose to join the terror organization in Syria and Iraq.

López’s two eldest grandchildren were taken out of France by their parents in July 2015, who originally said they were going to vacation in Italy.

From that summer until 2019, López’s son — who converted to Islam 20 years ago and is currently imprisoned — and his daughter-in-law had two more children, one born while the IS was still in power and the other at the Roj camp.

“My eldest grandson was interviewed a year ago by a French TV that managed to get in there and said he wanted to go back to France with his grandparents,” he said.

When asked why France does not repatriate children who live in tough conditions at camps, he said: “We have been told that they analyze case by case”.

They said this approach would be “respecting the best interests of the child, something surprising considering that leaving them in a detention camp is not in the best interests,” he added.

Government sources told Efe that the “case by case” approach will be taken, prioritizing isolated minors, orphans or children whose mothers accept a separation.

Having studied several minors repatriated from Syria, child psychiatrist Serge Hefez denies that children trapped in the country — most of them under 12 years old — are already radicalized and pose a threat to France.

“I can say that it went well. They are with their grandparents, adapted and nobody knows their stories,” he added.

“These children already live in permanent fear and are humiliated daily. If they stay there (in the camps) they run the risk of being captured by terrorist organizations,” he added. EFE


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