By Lian Martínez / GICJ

“France has violated the rights of French children held in Syria by failing to repatriate them”, stated the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) stated on Thursday, 24 February 2022, after examining claims concerning 49 French children of alleged Daesh militants [1].

The complaints were lodged in 2019 by a group of French citizens on behalf of their grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, who are currently detained in Kurdish-controlled camps in Roj, Ayn Issa and Al-Hawl, and some are as young as five years old.

Since then, only 11 children have been repatriated but the remaining 38 still live in these camps under “inhuman sanitary conditions, lacking basic necessities including water, food and health care, and facing an imminent risk of death”, said CRC member Ann Skelton, as well as at risk of indoctrination into ISIS ideology [2]. Furthermore, “at least 62 children have reportedly died as a result of these conditions since the beginning of 2021”. Also, the COVID-19 crisis has reduced access for humanitarian agencies [3].

The situation is extremely urgent and needs prompt action; France must face its responsibility and duty to protect these children. One should be reminded that these children are innocent victims and subjects of rights and guarantees under international obligations and especially protected under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, ratified by 196 states, including France. Several provisions are relevant to this case, including the right to life, survival and development (Article 6), the right to develop to the fullest extent possible (Article 5), and the right to be protected from harmful influences, violence and exploitation (Article 19).

Despite the dire situation, authorities have been reluctant to repatriate its nationals, invoking logistical difficulties and national security arguments. However, leaving children in the camps may in fact be counterproductive in the long-term security interests and, according to counterterrorism experts, repatriation is the best solution because it enables a controlled and monitored process of return [4].

At the EU level, there is no common policy, each country has its own strategy [5] and France takes it on a case-by-case approach that gives priority to orphans and children deemed fragile whose mothers agree to let them go [6]. Nevertheless, they have been accused of not giving “due consideration to the best interests of child victims when assessing the repatriation requests of family members”, the CRC argued.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) calls on France to respect and ensure the Convention of the Rights of the Children —to which France has been party since 1990 [7]—. GICJ condemns the government’s interests that perpetuate children suffering indefinitely and also supports the Committee’s call for the immediate repatriation of the remaining children and, while they remain in the camps, provide “additional measures to mitigate the risks of their survival and development”.

Refugee camps, repatriation, children, France, children’s rights, Human Rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, GenevaInternationalCentreForJustice


[1]  https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=28152&LangID=E

[2] https://www.cncdh.fr/sites/default/files/190924_opinion_on_french_under-age_nationals_pr_impression.pdf

[3] https://rm.coe.int/third-party-intervention-by-the-council-of-europe-commissioner-for-hum/1680a31834

[4]https://www.justiceinitiative.org/uploads/d9762590-424c-4cb6-9112-5fedd0d959d1/european-states%E2%80%99-obligations-to-repatriate-the-children-detained-in-camps-in-northeast-syria-20210722.pdf

[5]https://euractiv.com/section/non-discrimination/news/french-delegation-calls-for-emergency-repatriation-of-children-in-syria-as-winter-nears/

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/15/world/europe/frenchwoman-dead-syria-detention-camp.html

[7] https://indicators.ohchr.org/

Picture source: Pexels

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