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France repatriates 35 people from Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria

Ten women and a 17-year-old girl were either detained upon arrival in France or scheduled to appear before a judge on Tuesday
A member of the Syrian Kurdish Asayish security forces stands guard during an inspection of tents at al-Hol camp, 28 August 2022 (AFP)

French authorities repatriated a group of individuals from Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, which hosts a large number of people and relatives of suspected members of the Islamic State (IS) group.

Thirty-five people in total, including ten women and 25 children, arrived on Tuesday in France.

The French anti-terrorism prosecutor's office said in a statement that ten women, aged between 23 and 40 years old, and a 17-year-old girl, were either detained upon arrival to France or were scheduled to appear before a judge on Tuesday.

The prosecutor's office said that the remaining children would be placed under the custody of the state.

Al-Hol camp accommodates approximately 51,000 individuals, among them are widows, wives and children of suspected IS fighters, with Iraqis making up nearly half of the inhabitants. It is currently run by the US-backed Kurdish-led administration that controls northeastern Syria.

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Gradual repatriation

During the peak of the IS's control of parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, French citizens formed the largest European group to join the ranks of IS fighters. However, since the IS territorial defeat in 2019, France has been gradually repatriating women and children in multiple phases.

Al-Hol camp's annex section hosts around 8,000 women and children, considered the most devoted supporters of the IS group among the camp's residents. Critics have warned of the dire living conditions in Al-Hol, the poor health services, and the lack of proper education for children.

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Repatriation of western nationals from northern Syria has been politically contentious in countries such as France, Canada, Australia and the UK, where officials have cited national security concerns when arguing against the returns.

In June, 17 Australian children and nine women launched a legal case against the government in Canberra, asking to be repatriated after years of being stranded in Al-Hol and Al-Roj, another camp in the Hasakeh governorate, which holds relatives of suspected IS fighters.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged $150m in aid to regions of Syria and Iraq that were liberated from IS group,  during a ministerial conference of the Global Coalition to Defeat IS, hosted in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh.

Blinken also urged foreign countries to repatriate citizens who joined the militant group. He applauded countries, including Canada, that have brought home their nationals from Syria, urging other nations to follow suit. 

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