France repatriates 55 from Syria camps
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France has repatriated 40 children and 15 women from camps in Syria holding family members of suspected Islamic State jihadists, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
It marked the largest such repatriation in three months and came a week after a European rights court condemned France over its refusal to bring back two women detained in Syria.
"The minors have been transferred to child aid services," the ministry said in a statement. "The adults have been handed to judicial authorities."
After questioning, three of the women who had been the target of arrest warrants were charged with associating with terrorists and taken into custody, a judicial source said later on Thursday.
In July, France, following pressure from campaigners, returned 16 mothers from the Syrian camps -- several of whom were also charged with terror offences and taken into custody -- as well as 35 children.
The French government had long refused mass repatriations of the hundreds of French children detained in Kurdish-controlled camps, dealing with them on a case-by-case basis that rights groups criticised as deliberately slow.
Last week the European Court of Human Rights condemned Paris over its refusal to return two women and said it should promptly re-examine the request by the women's parents to let them come home.
But it did not issue a blanket ruling that France return all citizens held in Syria since the fall of the IS "caliphate", as sought by rights groups and Western allies including the United States.
Western countries have faced a dilemma over how to handle their citizens detained in Syria since the end of military operations against the Islamic State group there in 2019.
Thousands of extremists in Europe decided to join the group as fighters, often taking their wives and children to live in the "caliphate" declared in territory conquered in Iraq and Syria.
Before July, France had prioritised its security over welfare concerns for the detained, pointing to a series of attacks by IS jihadists, including the November 2015 assaults on Paris that left 130 people dead.