Council of Europe urges members to allow citizens who joined ISIS in Syria to return

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The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner called Friday for member states to allow the return home of citizens detained in Syria for joining ISIS, a move long resisted by France and Britain in particular.

While some countries such as Germany and the Netherlands have repatriated some citizens who fought with the extremists, others have brought home only wives and children who were with them.

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Paris and London, wary of returning radicalized nationals, insist that adults who joined the insurgents and are now held in Kurdish-controlled camps must be tried and sentenced by local courts.

But rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic argued that nationals of the Council’s 47 countries “fall within the jurisdiction of those states,” according to a statement from her office.

“The prevailing health and security situation in the camps endangers the lives and physical and mental health of those detained there, especially children,” it said.

“Such a situation cannot be compatible with the prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment laid down in Article 3” of the European Convention on Human Rights, it added.

Mijatovic was responding to two legal challenges by families to France’s refusal to bring home relatives being held at the sprawling al-Hol camp in northeast Syria.

The camp holds almost 63,000 people, mostly women and children, including thousands from Europe and Asia suspected of family ties with ISIS fighters.

Women walk through al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria April 1, 2019. (File photo: Reuters)
Women walk through al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria April 1, 2019. (File photo: Reuters)

Around 80 French women and 200 of their children are at the site, for example, but so far France has taken back just 35 orphaned or isolated children, and none over the age of 10.

Aid groups have warned of squalid conditions at al-Hol for prisoners who lack sufficient health care and water.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also pressed allies this week to bring back citizens arrested for joining ISIS, warning they could not be held in Syria indefinitely.

“The removal of all foreign children from the camps is an absolute and mandatory priority,” Mijatovic’s office said.

“In order to safeguard their best interests, their mothers must be repatriated with them,” it added.

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