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Netherlands to repatriate 40 women and children from Syria

November 1, 2022

The Netherlands is set to repatriate its largest ever group from Kurdish camps in Syria. The dozen women will be arrested on suspicion of joining jihadi groups, while their children are to be placed in state care.

Figures of women and children visible as they walk among the tents in Camp Roj in Syria
Dutch authorities estimate around 120 Dutch citizens are still in Kurdish-controlled camps in SyriaImage: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

The Dutch government on Tuesday said it would repatriate 12 women and their children from Kurdish-run detention camps in northern Syria.

The group of 40 people is the largest ever to be repatriated by the Netherlands and follows a May ruling by a Dutch court ordering that the women be brought back.

Thousands of extremists from Europe and other parts of the West joined the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) militant group as fighters. They often took wives and children to live in the self-declared "caliphate" in territory conquered in Iraq and Syria.

What will happen to those returning? 

Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra and Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius outlined the details in a letter to parliament.

"The cabinet is transferring twelve Dutch women suspected of terrorist offenses and their 28 children to the Netherlands," the ministers said.

"The women will be arrested after arrival in the Netherlands and will be tried." 

The letter did not say which camp the women and children would come from, or when, adding only it would be carried out as a "special operation."

The ministers added that the children would be taken into the care of the Dutch child protection services.

What is the Dutch position on repatriation?

The Dutch government had refused to repatriate the women, arguing that they had traveled to Syria to join "IS" of their own volition. 

The return of jihadis and their relatives to stand trial in the Netherlands is a politically sensitive subject. The Netherlands' anti-terror agency has warned that some returnees may intend to continue supporting jihadi activities and pose a security risk.

 A French woman detainee walks at Camp Roj, where relatives of people suspected of belonging to the "Islamic State" group
Conditions at the camps, such as health care, have come in for criticism from observersImage: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

However, a court in the city of Rotterdam ruled in May that the suspects should be repatriated quickly so that they could be prosecuted.

Dutch government figures show that some 300 Dutch citizens went to Syria at the height of the civil war there.

Some 120 remain there, many in Kurdish-controlled camps and detention centers across northern Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

Earlier this year, Dutch courts sentenced a woman to three and a half years in prison for joining the "Islamic State." The 28-year-old had joined the militia, as well as the Jabhat al Nusra jihadist group, with her husband in 2013. 

The Netherlands had repatriated five women in February who are also set to face trial. 

Last week, France repatriated dozens of women and children after a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that condemned French authorities for refusing to allow two women to return at the request of their parents.

rc/dj (AFP, dpa)