The return of Daesh women and children in 2022

On Tuesday, July 5, 2022, the Quai d’Orsay announced the repatriation of thirty-five children and sixteen women from the Roj camp in northeastern Syria. If the family associations of returnees have since hoped for an easier return, public opinion, for its part, remains hostile, with 67% of respondents in favor of leaving those who have joined the Islamic State in Iraq or Syria.

So how do you deal with these returns? This requires an understanding of the journey of these women who have chosen to leave the country, but also of the children born under the influence of IS, some of whom have never known France.

Why leave?

Many studies have identified the main reasons that led women to leave France. Although the motivations remain varied, defining standard reasons can subsequently allow the approach to de-radicalisation to be personalized. We can identify three most common myths.

– “ Daeshland represents the desire to join a utopian Islamic society. Women seek to improve their quality of life around the concept hijrah, they thus leave a corrupt society in their eyes to join an organization that defends the values ​​of unity and brotherhood. Only the “true” Islam allows its use.

– “Mother Teresa” represents a humanitarian quest, also utopian. These women’s motive is often to save the children who were bombed by Bashar el-Assad. This reason was used by many returnees to justify their departure and qualify their involvement in IS.

– “Sleeping Beauty” embodies the search for an ideal spouse, these women idealize the protective and valiant behavior of Muslim warriors. Once there, disillusionment is swift: they live under a man’s thumb, the life expectancy of IS fighters is reduced, a woman can remarry as soon as her husband dies. , in a general framework where polygamy is normalized.

Some refute the idea that innocent young women in pursuit of a noble cause are abandoning themselves to join the Islamic State: “They are not weak women, they are real women, real lionesses. These are women who have lived, they are in their thirties/forties, they have a history, a past, a thickness. These are not the teenage girls going to Syria on a whim. These women are not victims. They are strong women making choices.” (Matthew Suc). Women’s jihadism cannot therefore be understood from a single, necessarily simplistic angle.

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The issue of children is different. Those who return are under 14, they followed their parents or were born on Syrian or Iraqi soil. In 2016, there were 420 children, including a third born on the site without any administrative existence, raised and socialized in the condition of jihadism.

The role of women and children in Daesh

IS remains a society where everyone has a role to play in making it work. For some, women’s role is considered passive, but once married, under male guardianship, they create the future warriors, the “cubs of the caliphate”. Maternity then becomes a means to maintain an ideology, but also to institutionalize these future warriors. Women’s most important mission is therefore to raise the next generation Jihad. Thus, they mostly stay at home, with the exception of the most qualified who can provide logistical support by caring for the wounded or by animating Daesh propaganda to recruit.

Although children have a minimal role in this society, they are raised to be the future of the caliphate. According to reports from the UN Security Council, the boys have the role of carrying weapons, guarding strategic points, arresting civilians and being suicide bombers. These children not only experience the violence they have witnessed and contributed to: living through war has disrupted, if not compromised, their normal social, moral, emotional and cognitive development. The little girls follow a domestic education and discover how to meet the needs of their future husbands, educate their children in Daesh ideology, manage their homes and meet the needs of their families.

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Until the end of 2016, therefore, political and judicial circles had an idealized and biased vision of women, which led them to consider them exclusively as victims. This idea allowed the first returnees to return to France without worrying about prosecution or the children having to be psychologically monitored.

The end of Daesh

In 2016, 700 French are still there, half of whom are women. Not being able to move around without a male guardian, it is more complicated for them to leave the territory. The reasons for these returns are as varied as for departures.

When the Kurdish forces announced the end of the caliphate in 2019, a consequent reduction of the Islamist territory was already observed, without this signifying the final end of the ideology. The French who still live in Syria or Iraq are either in prison (for men) or in camps run by the Kurds. The women and children still present in the camps face unhealthiness, lack of water and food, but also the prosperity of ideology. In fact, if the women and children had been repatriated directly after the fall of Baghouz (Syria, 2019), those imbued with the radical ideology would not have found themselves together in the camps, the recruitment could have been stopped quickly.

The issue of returns

The “Cazeneuve Protocol”, established in 2014 by the former interior minister, allows cooperation with Turkey to improve the care of returnees and their judgement. The purpose of this protocol is to manage returns to control them and monitor any operation.

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Since the attacks in Paris (2015), the returnees have been directly arrested, convicted and sentenced for association with terrorist criminals. The issue of gender, which was in favor of women before 2016, becomes an aggravating element of severity because the judicial authority considers that women are involved in the same way as men. The prosecution then built a penalty scale and new jurisprudence for longer sentences without the possibility of remission for the most part. The prisons have also adapted to these new inmates. In 2021, a women’s prison in Rennes joined a radicalization management area (QPR). The aim is not to mix women who are still potentially radicalized with common law prisoners to avoid proselytism. The PAIRS program makes it possible to initiate ideological detachment among the most radical inmates. At the end of their sentence, socio-legal follow-up ensures the reintegration of these women in France.

Those who return with their children are directly separated for medical treatment of minors, they are then entrusted by Childhood Social Assistance (ASE) to a host family. A process of reintegration into Western society follows, which begins with tests to assess their physical, psychological or pediatric needs. This makes it possible to identify their problems and understand them in order to support and help them.

At the same time, adult family members, often grandparents, can apply for custody. A legal measure of educational investigation (MJIE) is then carried out by the legal protection of young people (PJJ) to ensure that the home is not radicalized and that it will be able to accommodate the grandchildren. .

Why repatriate?

For David De Pas, coordinator of the anti-terrorist unit at the court in Paris, the answer is clear “The geopolitical instability of the region and the porosity of what remains of the Kurdish camps raises fears of two things: on the one hand, uncontrolled migrations of jihadists towards Europe with the risk of attacks by highly ideological people, and on the other side reconstruction of particularly seasoned and determined combatant terrorist groups in the region. »

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The return is also a legal and political issue, as despite calls from the UN and the National Advisory Commission on Human Rights, which called on the government to repatriate the French children detained in the camps as soon as possible, the authorities have not carried out mass repatriations, preferring a policy on a case-by-case basis. Leaving nationals under the authority of countries that should not administer them. Public opinion’s opposition to return and the health context linked to Covid-19 have also relegated this debate to the background.

The French authorities, who claim to have established the necessary system in France to assess, take responsibility for and monitor these future returnees, highlight the need to avoid any repetition in France and above all the rebuilding of a new Islamic State in the Middle East . According to them, integration of these ex-jihadists into Western society would avoid further religious radicalization or outsiders.


1 Leclerc, J. (2019, March 1). The French are massively against the return of the jihadists.

2 D. Bouzar and M. Martin, “For what reasons do young people engage in jihad? », Child and adolescent neuropsychiatryNo. 64, 2016, pp. 353-359.

3 Matthew Suc, Women of jihadists, at the heart of French terrorism, Paris, Fayard, 2016.4 Afp, LA (2019, October 19), Non-repatriation of jihadists held in Syria, “a security risk” for France.

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