The Kurdish authorities in Syria handed over, Saturday, June 5, four Dutchmen close to fighters of the Islamic State (IS) group, including three children, to a Dutch diplomatic delegation with a view to their repatriation, provoking strong criticism in the Netherlands.
It is a woman and her two children – two boys aged 2 and 5 – as well as a 12-year-old girl, according to Kurdish and Dutch officials.
“The firm transfers a Dutch national suspected of terrorist offenses with her two minor children, as well as a victim of international child abduction, from Syria to the Netherlands”, confirmed Saturday evening in a letter to the Dutch deputies – transmitted to Agence France-Presse (AFP) – the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigrid Kaag and the Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus.
“The suspect will be arrested on arrival in the Netherlands and face criminal charges”, they add, explaining that a “Exceptional opportunity” had come forward to transfer the woman and her children, while many Dutch deputies were indignant at the operation which had not been announced on social networks.
Tamara Buruma, the lawyer for the woman and her two children, confirmed to AFP that it is a woman called Ilham B., from the city of Gouda, and her two young boys.
The question of the repatriation of relatives of ISIS has provoked strong criticism in the Netherlands and divided the resigning government, some defending a humanitarian approach while others favor the security dimension. It is a process “Incomprehensible”, lamented Liberal MP Ingrid Michon on Twitter. “It is unacceptable and unbearable to bring here the enemy that is ISIS. These women terrorists have lost their right to set foot on Dutch soil forever ”, added far-right MP Geert Wilders.
The four Dutch were handed over to the delegation, which included the Dutch special envoy to Syria, Emiel de Bont, and the director of consular affairs at the Dutch foreign ministry, Dirk Jan Nieuwenhuis.
“This is a very specific consular mission, which my government has decided to undertake because the Dutch court of justice has issued judgments in these specific cases”, underlined Mr. de Bont during a press conference.
According to Dutch authorities, at least 220 Dutch children live in Syria or neighboring Turkey, 75% of whom are under the age of four. About 75 of them, along with 30 Dutch women and 15 men, live in camps run by the Kurds.
Since the fall in March 2019 of the ISIS “caliphate” in Syria, the Kurds have been demanding the repatriation of thousands of foreign women and children of jihadists whom they are holding in overcrowded camps. Despite these repeated requests, most countries, especially European countries, are reluctant to take back their citizens. Some, including France, have repatriated a limited number of minors, including orphans. The Netherlands is no exception, repatriating only two orphans in 2019.
“The general policy is that the Netherlands do not help people coming from combat zones”, explained to AFP Anna Sophia Posthumus, spokesperson for the Dutch national coordinator for the fight against terrorism and security.
But for the Kurds in Syria, this Western reluctance poses a real challenge, especially since it is a heavy issue to take on, both financially and in terms of security.
In charge of foreign affairs for the Kurdish autonomous administration of northeastern Syria, Abdel Karim Omar on Saturday reiterated his appeal to the international community, to “That she assumes her responsibilities” and that she “Cooperate” with the Kurds.
For his part, Mme Posthumus said he would rather see “A court in the region” capable of judging the guilty persons on the spot. “We had discussions but this is just the beginning”, she added.
The UN has repeatedly warned of the deteriorating health and security situation in the overcrowded camps in northeastern Syria. A UN report published in February noted “Cases of radicalization, training, fundraising and incitement to external operations” in these camps, especially that of Al-Hol.
“We are delighted that our clients are repatriated to the Netherlands, but would have preferred it to happen sooner”, a conclu Mme Buruma.