Belgium’s court of justice has ruled that a group of mothers and children of ISIS fighters who held Belgian citizenship must be released from a detention centre Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria and returned to Belgium within 40 days.
While the move was hailed by both domestic and international human rights groups, the court decision was not well received by Belgium’s Flemish nationalists, including the former Secretary of State for Migration, Theo Francken, who accused the Belgian government of catering to supporters of radical Islamic ideology.
The six children who will be repatriated to Belgium are all under the age of six and are currently living in the Al-Hol refugee camp near the Iraqi border.
The latest court decision comes after two previous rulings, which had denied the women the chance return to their former homes from the war-torn region with their children in tow and their rights as Belgian citizens fully restored.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Belgium has, along with France and the Russian Federation, been one of the main suppliers of foreign fighters to the radical jihadist groups fighting in Styria and Iraq. Since groups like Jabat al-Nusra and ISIS first appeared on the battlefield in the Middle East, Belgian authorities have said that more than 400 of their citizens had left since 2012 to volunteer for combat and jihadists, about 150 of whom are still “active” combatants on the ground despite ISIS’ multiple tactical defeats over the last two years. According to security experts, an estimated 160 Belgian minors are still held against their will in the conflict zone.
“These children are victims, not perpetrators. Their rights have already been violated multiple times: the right to care, the right to a safe environment and the right to education. We must make sure that we help them,” said the EU’s Welfare, Public Health and Family Justice Committee Commissioner, Bruno Vanobbergen, who added that the European Commission is in favour of the international children’s aid organisations, such as UNICEF, becoming more actively involved in having the children of ISIS fighters returned to their home countries.
According to Vanobbergen, efforts should not be limited to repatriation from conflict zones, but also reintegration and medical care once they have returned home.