Belgium to repatriate children and some mothers held in Syria

by Reuters
Thursday, 4 March 2021 18:20 GMT

* Children are in the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria

* Belgium, like rest of Europe, torn over Islamic State children

By Marine Strauss

BRUSSELS, March 4 (Reuters) - Belgium will repatriate children detained in a Syrian refugee camp to meet a 2019 court order, along with some mothers on a case by case basis, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said on Thursday.

Like the United States, Europe has repeatedly said it is ready to take custody of some minors whose families went to fight for Islamic State in Syria, fearing the camps may breed a new generation of militants.

But governments are still reluctant as there is little sympathy for militants' families in Europe after the trauma of militant attacks on the continent over the past decade.

A Brussels court ordered the Belgian government in December 2019 to help bring to Belgium 10 children who were born in Syria to Islamic State fighters of Belgian nationality, but Belgium has so far not taken them back.

The children are in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria which is under Kurdish control.

"The reality is that the situation in the camp has seriously deteriorated", Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told the Belgian parliament on Thursday.

Around 20 Belgian minors and 11 other women are in the smaller camp of Roj, near the Iraqi border.

Speaking of the risk of seeing the children in the camps becoming radicalised, De Croo said Belgium should do everything to get them out of the camps.

"The National Council of Security yesterday confirmed the process of repatriation of the children, the age limit being set at 12 years old," he said.

There are also 13 Belgian mothers in the camp - nine convicted and four subject to international arrest warrants. Bringing them back to Belgium will be decided on a case-by-base basis, with the only criteria being national security. It was not clear if they were related to the children being brought to Belgium.

"If they distanced themselves from (Islamic State), they could be repatriated," De Croo said. (Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine, editing by Robin Emmott and Hugh Lawson)

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