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Europe

12 French orphans from IS families returned to France

media A mother detained with her children at a camp for Islamic State (IS) group-affiliated people in the northern Syrian village of Ain Issa, gestures during an interview on February 15, 2018. Delil souleiman / AFP

Syria's Kurds have handed over 14 orphans born to jihadist families to government delegations from France and the Netherlands, in the latest repatriations of foreigners living in crowded camps.

Abdelkarim Omar, the top Kurdish foreign affairs official, said Monday that 12 French and two Dutch orphans were handed over on Sunday.

French, Dutch orphans

The transfer marks the latest small step in efforts to resolve the problem posed by the huge numbers of stranded foreign jihadists and their families in Syrian camps.

The children, the oldest of whom is aged 10, had been held together with tens of thousands of people who fled recent fighting against the Islamic State group.

Kurdish officials handed over "12 orphaned French children from IS families to a delegation from the French ministry of foreign affairs," Abdulkarim Omar said in a statement.

He said the transfer took place in the town of Ain Issa on Sunday and added that two orphaned Dutch children were also handed over to a government delegation from the Netherlands.

There was no immediate comment from either France or the Netherlands.

France has one of the largest contingents of jihadists who were captured or turned themselves in, together with their families, in the final stages of the US-backed Kurdish assault on the last fragment of IS's "caliphate".

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last month that the number of French nationals currently living in Kurdish camps was between 400 and 450.

The jihadist proto-state eventually died in the village of Baghouz, on the banks of the Euphrates, in March this year, after a months-long US-backed Kurdish assault.

Slow trickle 

Larger than expected numbers of families emerged from the ruins of the last IS enclave and the fate of tens of thousands of them remains unclear.

France had already repatriated five orphans in mid-March and a three-year-old girl later that month.

Paris, facing intense pressure from public opinion, has said it was studying the files of all of its citizens held in northeastern Syria on a case-by-case basis.

Last week, two American women and six children from suspected jihadist families were also repatriated.

The Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria is not officially recognised and the legal framework for any repatriations and transfers is unclear at best.

The biggest returns so far were to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kosovo, while countries such as Russia, Sudan and Norway have also started repatriating some of their nationals.

Returns have remained limited however and Al-Hol, the main camp in the Kurdish region, is still bursting with more than 70,000 people from at least 40 different countries.

The majority of people stranded in such camps are from neighbouring Iraq and from Syria itself.

A first batch of 800 Syrian women and children were sent home earlier this month, most of them to their hometowns of Raqa and Tabqa.

The fate of suspected IS fighters held in Kurdish prisons is even less clear, with few European countries willing to bring them back and the Kurds unable to give them trials.

The Kurds are pushing foreign nations to take responsibility for the crisis and have warned that they could not guarantee how long they could keep such large numbers of dangerous jihadists locked up.

France has transferred some of its nationals to Iraq, where courts have churned out death sentences in lightning trials which rights groups say make a mockery of international justice standards.

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