The Kurdish-led administration in Syria’s northeast handed over to the Netherlands a Dutch woman, her two young sons, and a Dutch girl, who lived in a camp for families of alleged ISIL (ISIS) group fighters.
A delegation from the Netherlands led by special envoy to Syria Emiel de Bont received the four on Saturday in Qamishli city, at the Kurdish administration’s offices.
The group will be taken home and Kurdish authorities say the adult woman faces no criminal charges by their administration.
The move was a small step towards resolving a complicated issue for European and Middle Eastern countries – what to do with the thousands of their citizens who have travelled to territories held by ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
At a news conference organised for the handover, De Bont said the four had been living in a small settlement known as Roj camp, holding mostly western women who had travelled to Syria and Iraq, and their children.
“This is a very specific consular legal mission which my government has decided to undertake because a Dutch court of law issued rulings in these specific cases,” De Bont said. He gave no further details about the rulings.
“We are here then to serve the rule of law and to do what we can to assist the due legal process,” he added.
‘Most dangerous camp’
It was the second time Dutch nationals have been repatriated from camps in northeast Syria, where thousands of foreigners and Iraqis have been living since the defeat of the armed group in 2019. Two Dutch orphans were repatriated in June 2019.
European countries have been reluctant to repatriate their nationals living in such circumstances. Most are concerned that there is not enough evidence to try those who had joined the group, or fear they maintain links to ISIL.
A Dutch court ruled last year that authorities are not obliged to repatriate a group of 23 Dutch women and their 56 children currently imprisoned in northern Syria. Experts said there would be exceptions for individual cases.
At least 220 such children with Dutch nationality remain in Syria or Turkey, 75 percent of whom are under the age of four and were born in the region to parents with Dutch citizenship.
The Syrian Kurdish authorities, which were part of the international coalition that fought against ISIL until the self-styled “caliphate” fell in March 2019, say the camps where more than 70,000 ISIL family members are staying are a security threat and a burden. The Kurds are still battling fighters on the run, and fear the camps may also hold some active ISIL members.
“The international community must bear its responsibilities regarding bringing those militants to trial and repatriating their nationals,” said Syrian Kurdish official Abdulkarim Omar.
He pleaded for assistance to manage another camp, the larger, sprawling al-Hol, which he called “the most dangerous camp in the world”.
Aid groups have described dire conditions in al-Hol, which Syrian Kurdish officials have struggled to control and where killings have been on the rise. They are believed to be carried out by ISIL supporters as punishment against those who stray from the group’s ideology.
Thousands are also held in prisons, with formal legal procedures and trials held only rarely.