For the first time, France has repatriated some of its ISIS-affiliated adults from Syria. On July 12, 2022, the French government repatriated 35 children and 16 women from camps run by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. Prior to this, France had repatriated only 35 children over the course of three years.
Recently, the issue of repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS fighters and their families has been increasingly prominent. Current and former US government officials, both military and civilian, have been calling for the entire international community to address the issue and repatriate all of their citizens. Most recently, General Joseph Votel, former head of US Central Command from 2016 to 2019, penned an op-ed in The Washington Post where he referred to the al-Hawl Camp as an “incubator for the next-generation of ISIS”.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul echoed these calls at a recent event hosted by the Middle East Institute on the issue of ISIS detainees, saying that a “whole-of-government” approach was necessary to effectively address the conditions that ISIS takes advantage of to sustain and rebuild itself.
Despite repatriations increasing recently, especially of Iraqi citizens, who make up the largest group at the al-Hawl Camp, full repatriation will take decades at the current pace. France still has 160 children, 75 women, and 60 men in North and East Syria. There are over ten thousand foreigners, including several thousand fighters, remaining in facilities in the region overall. The fighters in particular are proving to be a major issue, as some countries that are conducting repatriations, such as Tajikistan, which repatriated 146 women and children on July 25, are less willing to repatriate fighters than women and children.
The United States and the Autonomous Administration have continued to warn the international community that the status quo is not sustainable, and that more attacks and break-out attempts, such as what happened at the al-Sina’a Prison in January 2021, will be inevitable if this issue is not addressed.