Wives and children of IS fighters are detained in al-Hol Camp in Syria, Feb. 18, 2020. (Heather Murdock/VOA)
Wives and children of IS fighters are detained in al-Hol Camp in Syria, Feb. 18, 2020. (Heather Murdock/VOA)

PARIS - A group of French women who joined the so-called Islamic State militant group and are currently detained in Syria continue a hunger strike as the French government denies their requests to be repatriated to France, along with their children.

At least 12 French women who had joined the so-called Islamic State in Syria launched a hunger strike last week to protest what their organizers describe as “the stubborn refusal of the French authorities to organize their repatriation.”

A total of 80 women and their 200 children live in poor conditions in camps or underground prisons in Syria. They denounce what they described as “an arbitrary detention which deteriorates to infinity and without aim." They asked to be brought to justice in France for their alleged crimes. Marie Dose is a lawyer representing these women

She explains that these French women live in harsh conditions in camps in Al Hol and Roj, in Northern Syria. She describes their situation as a dead end as a French judge has issued international warrants for their arrests and the French judicial system wants to prosecute them. Therefore, these French women cannot face trial in Syria or Northern Kurdistan. However, French authorities refuse to repatriate them.

France faces mounting pressure to tackle this humanitarian crisis on its own.  

Recently, a UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights described these camps in Syrian as having “subhuman conditions”

Yet French authorities have declined to repatriate all French citizens involved in crimes in Iraq and Syria since March 2019. It is a difficult proposal for French leaders, considering the Islamic State group has been linked to the killings of hundreds of French citizens at home and abroad. 

France’s Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti says France will not forget that they betrayed the motherland to fight on behalf of the so-called Islamic State. According to him, the repatriation is a very complicated issue and a dangerous mission that puts at risk French soldiers, agents to get these French nationals out of the camps. A total of 35 children have been relocated to France so far, the last ones on January 13th, he said.

The timing does not play in favor of these women and their children as France is heading into a presidential race. Candidates’ positions on security issues and whether to have a strong hand against jihadists could sway voters.  

Marie Dose says only Emmanuel Macron could make the decision to repatriate these women and their children but she says he refuses to do it as it would seem too risky, politically speaking, ahead of the 2022 presidential election in France.

On Sunday, UNICEF called for “the safe reintegration and repatriation of all children in al-Hol Camp and across the northeast of Syria.” According to the UN agency, about 22,000 foreign children of at least 60 nationalities live in this camp in dire conditions.