French children detained in northeastern Syrian camps

An open letter from LDH President Patrick Bowdwin addressed to Republican President Emmanuel Macron

Mr. President,

For more than three years, about 200 French children have been arbitrarily detained with their mothers in the Rose and Al Hole camps in northeastern Syria. Most of these children were two or three years old when they entered the camps, some were born there, two-thirds of them were less than six years old. Since then, they have grown up in particularly difficult situations, deprived of proper care and benefited from no psychological support, even though they bear the scars of their wounds and bruises. They do not go to school, live in makeshift tents, come in contact with extreme temperatures, summer and winter, in fires that have already claimed several lives.

Many observers and NGOs have reported this situation over the years, which is deeply detrimental to human rights and condemns the blatant violation of the fundamental rights of these children. On February 8, the United Nations called on 56 countries, including France, about 20 independent human rights experts to repatriate the children.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its regional director, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders and the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) have all called. Repatriation of children and their mothers. In February 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the matter, and Mr. David de Pass, coordinator of the French anti-terrorism investigation judges, publicly reaffirmed that the repatriation was a humanitarian and security priority.

One by one, European countries, including Germany, Belgium (which has just repatriated sixteen children and six mothers), Denmark, Finland and Sweden, are listening to these urgent repatriation calls and taking action accordingly. In 2021, 97 European women and children returned to their home countries, of which only seven were French. France, it has been camping in a “case by case” position and has not conducted any repatriation campaign for sixteen months. We sincerely address you today, Mr. President, because your indifference every day puts the lives of these children and their mothers in even greater danger. Do we have to remind you that in 2019, more than 300 children died in Al Hole Camp alone? At Camp Rose, French orphans are left to fend for themselves.

The youngest of them is Sara, a six-year-old whose mother died on December 14, due to lack of care, although France refused her medical repatriation for three years.

Now another mother, Madame Descamps, suffering from cancer, is virtually dying and in front of her four children is at risk of dying in complete neglect.

Humanitarian stalemate for these children, but also legal stalemate for their mothers. These women with international arrest warrants can only be tried in France and will have to answer for their actions before the French anti-terrorism court responsible for their case. Regularly, the Kurdish authorities who detain them remind us that they cannot and do not want to judge them and urge foreign states to repatriate these children with their mothers.

Ultimately, a security stalemate, because allowing these children to grow up in this camp, which will disappear, will inevitably lead to the creation of extremism and mistrust – even hatred – towards our country, at the risk of uttering a terrorist threat.

During your first order, various voices of civil society (unions, independent authorities, judges, child psychiatrists, artists, etc.) came forward to condemn the fate reserved for these children. These voices could not be heard. Worse, they often come up against a kind of official silence, a tendency to make these children ghosts that should be forgotten. Like it or not, these kids are part of our history, the history of our country, and we can’t hide it.

Urgent need because every day is spent more than one day. Due to the pain of notorious condemnation, France’s ability to honor its international commitments, and in particular the provisions of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, is at stake. It’s about your desire to show humanity, to put an end to a situation that endangers the lives of children who are nothing more than double victims: first their parents’ choice, and then leaving their country. Finally, the honor of our country is under threat.

So we sincerely hope that at the beginning of your second order, France will finally repatriate these children and their mothers. This means our urgent request to the President of the French Republic, to whom we no doubt cannot remain sensitive to the priority of the best interests of the child.

In support of this approach, and to be able to discuss our serious concerns with you, we request a meeting in the future.

Thank you for agreeing to give us a favorable response.

In this context, you will understand that this letter has been made public.

Please accept, Mr. President, the assurance of our highest consideration.

Patrick Bowdoin, President of LDH

Paris, June 29, 2022

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