The difficult question of the return of jihadists to France

They are still around 200, trapped and lonely in the hostility of the Syrian desert. Unlike its European neighbors, France remains reluctant to repatriate its children of jihadists, even if those who have returned merge into the normality of a rediscovered childhood.

Since 2016, 126 children whose parents joined territories conquered by Islamic State have been repatriated to France. But the largest contingent, nearly 200 minors and 80 mothers, is still being held in camps in northeastern Syria controlled by the Kurds.

In Germany’s footsteps, Belgium decided at the end of June to repatriate almost all of its children, of whom only five remain. Paris, on the contrary, maintains a rejected policy of returning to the dropper.

For the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, France has “violated the rights of French children detained in Syria by failing to repatriate them”. He condemns “horrific” conditions on the ground, which “endanger their lives for years”, according to his results published in February.

These children are crammed into tents, exposed to extreme temperatures, outside the school “lack basic necessities, including water, food and health care, and face an imminent risk of death”, the experts from ONU warn.

“When this topic comes to the fore in the news, I know the fantasies that can unfold,” comments Stéphane Troussel, president of the department of Seine-Saint-Denis. “The images of children recruited by Islamic State (IS), weapons in hand, remain impregnated,” laments the elected official, who through Childhood Social Assistance (ASE) supports two-thirds of French children returning from war zones, mainly from the Iraqi-Syrian region.

But “the children are not guilty, they are first and foremost victims of their parents’ deadly excesses, and what they need first and foremost is to rebuild themselves if we want them to be able to integrate into society”, insists Mr. Troussel.

An attitude against public opinion: In 2019, almost seven out of ten French people were against the return of jihadist children, according to an Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting survey for France Info and Le Figaro.

– “Mortgage their future” –

The return of these “returnees”, both minors and adults, takes place as a minimum: in 2021, only eight children were repatriated to the jurisdiction of the Seine-Saint-Denis. And the issue remains very sensitive for the government.

But the earlier election deadlines, the “collective of united families” that bring together French families who have traveled to the Iraqi-Syrian zone, are hoping for a “gesture” from Emmanuel Macron for his second term.

Asked by AFP, Quai d’Orsay did not want to communicate and the last position taken on this issue dates back to April, and the President of the Republic had then assured Franceinfo that the orphans were not meant to stay in the camps , without specifying the schedule.

“We must not leave them in the oven, everyone is collapsing mentally,” warns Marie Dosé, a lawyer for several French women and children detained in Syria.

“In the camps, it’s the experience of the violence of abandonment, of loneliness,” explains Professor Thierry Baubet, head of the Department of Child Psychopathology at the Avicenne Hospital in Bobigny. But “one of the factors to the severity of the trauma is the duration of the exposure. Leaving them is abusive and it mortgages their future,” continues the child psychiatrist, whose team assesses each child when they return. .

“Some were mentally in very bad shape with many anxiety attacks, difficulty sleeping, falling hair, the elderly were on the contrary amazed at what they saw around them,” the vice president of the Bobigny youth remarked on their return. court, Muriel Eglin.

The reception of these minors was “an adventure”, made at the beginning of the fear, according to ASE from Yvelines. “Foster families or educators were afraid to see their name and address on letters sent to court”, thus being linked to parental terrorism cases, confides Lucie Debove, head of the service for ASE in Seine-Saint-Denis.

– Report the “truth” –

Following this trial and error, tailor-made care was initiated by the child protection services in coordination with the legal protection of young people and psychologists. They work collectively with the aim of “making children children again”, explains Sandra Lavantureux, director of ASE des Yvelines.

From schooling, most of which was taken away, to visits to the visiting room, to checking Whatsapp messages and letters from Syria, nothing is left to the coincidences of child protection actors. Nor the past of the extended family.

“More than 65% of the parents are in prison, we identify whether the visitation is positive for the child. There are very few situations with suspension of the visitation right. When there is, it is because there is a radicalization still active. With a very aggressive speech, or when children are pressured into statements that could have been made, to the detriment of parents who will be prosecuted for terrorist acts, ”explains Ms. Eglin.

The judicial authorities, she continues, also seek “membership of parents and the extended family in the educational project, which is crucial for the child’s development. They want to” ensure that the children grow up with the truth in their story. and do not add secrets to all their traumas “.

“It’s not trivial to have two parents in jail, so you have to explain to them why and how their parents’ actions,” said Me Josine Bitton, a lawyer for several children. She goes to the parents’ trial to “collect excerpts from their story” to “give them back, now or later, to the child”.

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