The operation involved 32 children and 15 women, the ministry said in a statement on Monday. Hundreds of women and children, many of them holding foreign nationalities, have been held in camps in the region since the collapse of ISIL (ISIS) in 2019.
“The minors have been handed to the services in charge of child assistance and will be subjected to medical and social monitoring,” the ministry said, thanking the Kurdish-run local administration in northeastern Syria for its collaboration.
Tuesday marks France’s third large-scale repatriation. In October, 40 children and 15 women were returned.
The repatriation comes as human rights campaigners have long urged governments to step up their efforts to bring back their nationals, especially children, from the camps, which were set up to hold the family of alleged ISIL members. Civilians also live in the camps.
Thousands of people had in the past decade travelled to Syria to join the armed group, many of them bringing their family members to live in ISIL’s self-declared state.
More than 1,464 children and women have returned since 2019, according to local authorities cited by Save the Children in a report published in December last year. While the rights group has praised the repatriation effort, it noted that it was not enough, as people trapped in the camps face violence and trauma.
One of the biggest and most overcrowded camps is al-Hol, where more than two people died every week in 2021, according to Save the Children.
It also warned that “it would take up to 30 years” to repatriate all the children housed in al-Hol and Roj camps if the rate of repatriation stayed the same as it was in 2021.
Last week, a UN committee condemned France for violating the Convention against Torture by refusing to repatriate French women and children from Syria.
“The United Nations Committee against Torture confirms it: our country chooses to abandon children and their mothers in war zones in full awareness of the suffering they endure and the violence to which they are exposed,” read a statement from lawyer Marie Dose, who represents several relatives of French women and children detained in Syria.