After the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, it is up to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to point the finger at France. At issue is the Paris doctrine on the return from Syria, “case by case”, of the wives of French jihadists. If France agreed, for the first time last July, to repatriate 16 mothers and 35 minors, her policy remains “arbitrary”, estimated Wednesday the ECHR, which condemned her.
Why was France condemned? What will change this decision? Will Paris have to repatriate all the families of the French jihadists? 20 minutes make the point.
Why did the ECHR condemn France?
In 2021, after the refusal of the French authorities to repatriate their daughters, stuck in camps in Syria with their children since 2019, the parents of two young Frenchmen seized the ECHR. They claimed that their daughters and grandchildren, detained in Al-Hol and Roj camps in the north-east of the country, were exposed to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.
Considering this Wednesday that France has violated Article 3.2 of Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that “no one may be deprived of entry into the territory of the State of which he is a citizen”, the Court therefore asks France to “review as soon as possible” the repatriation requests. “It is up to the French government to resume as soon as possible the examination of the applicants’ requests, surrounding them with adequate guarantees against arbitrariness”, reads the ECHR ruling.
Will this decision oblige the state to repatriate them?
This phrase is not necessarily synonymous with automatic return. According to the ECHR, the wives of jihadists and their children do not enjoy a general right to repatriation provided for by the right of entry into the national territory. In case of rejection, however, the court asks France to verify, by an independent body, that the rejection “is not based on any arbitrariness”.
In “exceptional circumstances”, such as when “physical integrity” is at stake or a child is “in a situation of great vulnerability”, French citizens can assert this general right to repatriation, the ECHR believes. France “could not deny access to French citizens in (its) territory (…) These were arbitrary decisions” and Paris “must review the repatriation requests”, welcomed Me Dosé, one of the parents’ lawyers who they seized the court.
What has the French policy on the return of families been so far?
Our European neighbors, such as Germany or Belgium, have brought nearly all of their jihadists and families back from Syria in recent years. This is not the case in France. In recent years, Paris has only repatriated children and under certain conditions, whether they are orphans, unaccompanied minors or if the mother agrees to leave.
As for the wives of French jihadists, the state has long supported a “case by case” policy, before accepting, for the first time, a massive return last July.
Why this sudden change of doctrine?
Before the July repatriation, with 80 French women and 200 children in Syrian camps, France had the largest “contingency” in the EU and one of the toughest positions on repatriation. In 2019 Finland launched the movement by announcing that it wants to repatriate all children. In March 2021, Belgium followed the return of some thirty Belgian children in detention and 21 women. Germany has reported 12 women and forty children since 2019.
Paris has been called to order several times. First of all by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, as we said, in February 2022. Two months later, in April, it was the defender of rights, Claire Hédon, who asked for the return “as soon as possible” of all the French children detained in the camps, as well as their mothers.
This Wednesday, a few hours after the ECHR’s decision, the Quai d’Orsay indicated that France is ready for new repatriations “when conditions permit”. “We did not wait for the ECHR’s decision to move forward,” added French government spokesman Olivier Véran. “We have already changed the rules for the examination and repatriation of French citizens who are still in northeastern Syria. Every file, every human situation in the end, is the subject of a careful and meticulous examination ”, he justified. To date, around 100 French women and nearly 250 children are still being held in camps in Syria.