The operation was kept secret until the last moment. Five children of jihadists, who until now had been held in Syrian Kurdistan in different camps, have been repatriated in the utmost discretion, Friday 15 March, announced the Foreign Ministry in a statement early in the afternoon. midday. "France has today made the return of several orphaned and isolated minors, aged 5 and under, who were in camps in northeastern Syria."said the Quai d'Orsay.
These five children arrived on French soil at 13 h 30 at Villacoublay airport, located in Yvelines. Few details were given publicly about their profile. The only certainty is that none of them have any currently identified parents, a diplomatic source assured. Four are "Pretty much fit" while the fifth is "Injured" and "A bad state" health, said the same source, saying he could be hospitalized.
Operation prepared for many months
The details of this operation - the first of its kind since Syria - have not been disclosed. However, we know that it was prepared for many months, and that it was concretely carried out in a few days by only French military means in delicate conditions. It is a French plane that would have repatriated these children directly from Syria without transit through Iraq. "There was a team on the ground and one on the plane", said one close to the file. Among the team on the plane were two doctors.
In Syria, France relied on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which it thanked in its communiqué. These are the SDSs that have "Made this issue possible", said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The International Committee of the Red Cross, for its part, helped to identify the children on the spot and ensure that they were orphans or unaccompanied children. Some of them had been collected by host families in and outside the camps.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it has selected these children for this first wave of repatriations because of their great "Vulnerability". "It was the most obvious cases", says one. Among them, according to our information, is at least one girl who was in Roj camp whose father is presumed dead since 2013. Her grandmother's lawyer, Me Samia Maktouf, had filed an appeal before the Administrative Court of Paris earlier this week, the 11 March.
Three more of these repatriated children come from one and the same siblings. Aged 1, 3 and 5 years, it is the boys of Julie Maninchedda. A young woman from Libercourt (Pas-de-Calais), brilliant high school student, violinist at her time, who joined the ranks of the Islamic State organization (IS) with her husband in 2014. After learning about the death of their daughter in February, Julie Maninchedda's parents were campaigning for the return of their grandchildren. "We are very much looking forward to this return but we do not forget the other children still on the zone"explains to World Me Marc Bailly, who defends the interests of the family with his colleague Me Martin Pradel.
The last of the children to be repatriated this Friday is another girl aged 5 years old who was held at Al-Hol camp. She "Was until then taken care of by a woman [...] who took this orphan as her daughter, she saved his life ", explained to AFP Me Marie Dosé, the lawyer of her family stayed in France, pointing out that "Her mother died in the bombings several months ago". "I am divided between the immense relief of seeing this little girl come back here and the terrible anxiety of knowing all these children still on the spot", added the lawyer.
France's position on adults is unchanged
If the French authorities have made a gesture towards these orphans, they have not, for the time being, relaxed their position for the other children detained in Syrian Kurdistan. Contrary to what was said in October 2018, it is no longer a question of repatriating separately children who would be detained with their mother. "Even if they agreed to a separation", says a diplomatic source. Some women would have ended up accepting such a solution in the hope of better living conditions for their offspring.
"With regard to adult French nationals, fighters and jihadists who followed Da'esh in the Levant [...]they must be tried in the territory where they committed their crimes "recalled the Foreign Ministry in its statement. While scenarios of group repatriation have leaked in recent weeks in the press, Paris is now putting forward a change of context in the region. After announcing, mid-December 2018, their immediate withdrawal, the Americans could indeed resolve to leave troops on the spot. France could therefore follow suit. It would no longer be a question of abandoning the Kurdish allies completely.
A position in line with the recent remarks of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. "Unlike what I read or hear, there is no return program for jihadists", he said, the 26 February. "As for children, it's a case-by-case approach, especially with the International Red Cross. It's a humanitarian approach that is followed, and with a lot of vigilance ", recalled the 13 March, the head of state, during a trip to Nairobi, Kenya.
Since their return to French soil, the five young orphans of jihadists are in any case kept as far as possible from the cameras. As is the case for other children who have returned before them - with their parents - they must be presented to a juvenile judge who must decide whether or not to be placed in foster care with the children's services. social welfare for children. For some, after a transitional period, custody could be left to their grandparents. They are also subject to special medical and psychological "Their relatives have been informed"said the Quai d'Orsay.