Belgium authorities to repatriate children of ISIS but leave mothers in Syria
A court in Belgium has opened the way for the country to separate children of Isis members from their mothers in order to bring them back home.
A judge ruled last year that the country had to bring back two women who went to Syria to join Isis if it wanted to repatriate their six children, because separating them would be a violation of their rights.
Tatiana Wielandt, 26, Bouchra Abouallal, 25, were convicted in absentia of joining Isis and sentenced to five years in prison, and are currently detained in al-Hol camp, in northern Syria, by Kurdish forces.
After the government challenged last year’s ruling, an appeals court said Wednesday that it will not be forced “to undertake any act of repatriation”.
In response, the justice ministry has said it will seek to bring back all children under 10 years old, and deal with older children on a case-by-case basis, while leaving the mothers behind.
“The Belgian government will continue to work … to bring children under the age of 10 back to Belgium. Children must not be punished for the deeds of their parents,” said Justice minister Koen Geens.
The children of the two women in question are all believed to be under 10 years old. Both Wielandt and Abouallal have said they would accept sending their children back, and that they regret joining Isis.
The news comes as the UK and other European countries debate how to deal with its citizens who were captured abroad on suspicion of being members of Isis.
Thousands of men and women left Europe to join the Isis caliphate when it was declared in 2014. At that time, it stretched across two countries over thousands of miles, but over the past few months its territory has been reduced to a tiny pocket in eastern Syria. All but a few hundred of its former members have been killed or ended up in the custody of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, as have their families.
More than 800 Europeans are currently being detained in northern Syria, but so far their respective governments are refusing to repatriate them over fears they would present a security risk.
The fate of British Isis suspects held in Syria has been thrown into the spotlight in recent weeks following the discovery of Shamima Begum, a 19-year-old British woman who left the UK to join Isis four years ago, in al-Hol camp.
Unlike Belgium, the UK has not indicated that it will seek to repatriate the children of Isis members like Ms Begum, who recently gave birth.
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has previously said that he would move to block any British citizen suspected of joining Isis from returning.
Mr Javid said of her case: “My message is clear: if you have supported terrorist organisations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return.”
While neither the UK or Belgium could legally stop them returning, the evacuation of those citizens from Syria would require the respective government’s cooperation.