Paris (CNSNews.com) – Amid continuing debate over what to do about citizens who went to the Middle East to join terrorist groups, the French grandparents of two children being held in a Syrian camp with their mother, an alleged jihadist, are embroiled in a legal battle in a bid to bring them to France.
The French government has so far refused to repatriate the two – a three-year-old boy and four-year-old girl – and the grandparents are now looking to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to rule in the matter.
Their team of four lawyers said in a statement the children are sick, malnourished, and were injured along with their mother during the battle that liberated Baghuz – the last ISIS holdout in Syria, which fell to Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the U.S., in March.
“By refusing to repatriate this mother and her two sick, wounded children who are in a state of extreme weakness, France consciously and deliberately exposes them to inhuman and degrading treatment, thus violating Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” the lawyers said in a statement.
(The article in question prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”)
“The mother is subject to an arrest warrant issued by a French anti-terrorist judge. She has confirmed her wish to see her children repatriated and is ready to assume her criminal responsibility in France.”
The names of the mother and children have not been made public, and details about the father are also unclear.
The lawyers argued that to prohibit French citizens to return to their country also constitutes a violation of the convention, which states in a separate protocol that, “No one shall be deprived of the right to enter the territory of the State of which he is a national.”
Since ISIS’ defeat in Baghuz, the children and their mother have been in a Kurdish-run camp in northern Syria where, according to the U.N., more than 73,000 people are living. Among them are the families of former jihadist fighters, including foreigners.
“These two children do not receive any care, are exposed to various diseases, malnourished, and suffer from dysentery,” the lawyers wrote. “Their mother is very thin, suffering from severe typhoid fever and is not treated.”
The European Court of Human Rights is the Strasbourg-based institution that rules on alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The French government has refused to repatriate French men and women affiliated to ISIS, but up to now has considered the case of children on a case-by-case basis. Five orphans were brought back in mid-March and at the end of the same month a three-year-old girl, whose mother has been sentenced to death in Iraq, was repatriated.
Government officials reported last month that 95 children of jihadists have returned to France from the Middle East since 2015. They estimated that another 70 more such children were being held in various camps in the region, but said accurate numbers were difficult to assess.
Interior Secretary Laurent Nunez said at the time that most of the children were being held with their parents, or at least with their mothers, and that “the question of return does not arise at the moment.”
Also last month, families here of children of French jihadists currently detained in camps in Syria lodged a complaint against the French government with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.
“These grandparents, uncles and aunts denounce the inaction of the French state and hope to push France to take responsibility and protect his children from the risk of famine and imminent death they face,” their lawyers said in a statement.
The committee is a body of independent experts that monitors and reports on implementation by ratifying governments of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.