PARIS/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Twelve French and two Dutch orphans of Islamic State fighters were repatriated to France from Syria on Monday, a French diplomatic source said, confirming a statement made by the Kurdish-led administration in the northeast of the country.
The source said a plane transporting the children had landed in a military airport near Paris where Dutch officials were to take custody of the Dutch nationals.
The source added the repatriated children were “particularly vulnerable” and that around 250 other children were believed to be held in several locations in Syria.
The 12 French children will be handed to social services, the source said. Until now, France had repatriated five children from Syria.
Authorities in northeast Syria have been urging Western countries to take back citizens who joined Islamic State and their relatives after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured the group’s last enclave this year.
Kurdish-led authorities last week said they had repatriated two U.S. women along with six children.
However, few countries have seemed willing to take back their citizens, who may be hard to prosecute, and the issue has led to fierce debate in their home countries where there is little public sympathy for the families of jihadists.
The issue is particularly acute in France where president Emmanuel Macron is under pressure after several French men were recently sentenced to death in Iraq on charges of joining Islamic State.
France opposes the death penalty.
But the French government has refused to take back Islamic State fighters and their wives. It has called the adults “enemies” of the nation, saying they should face justice either in Syria or Iraq.
The Kurdish-led administration and the SDF have said they cannot indefinitely hold thousands of foreigners, including many unrepentant jihadists, but no clear international policy has emerged over how to handle the issue.
Many of the relatives of captured Islamic State fighters are located in al-Hol, a camp for displaced people where aid agencies have warned of dire humanitarian conditions.
Reporting by John Irish in Paris, Angus McDowall in Beirut; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Ed Osmond