ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Belgium has reached a deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to facilitate the repatriation of orphaned children of Islamic State members now in Syria, a government minister said on Wednesday.
“I hope that we can start the operation within days or weeks,” Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders told the Belga news agency.
A KRG official contacted for the story said he had no information on the agreement.
There are nearly sixty Belgian children in northeast Syria held in camps run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Previously, 21 of them have returned to Belgium.
According to Reynders, the first stage of the plan is to move the children from the camps to the Kurdistan Region's capital of Erbil. “We will operate like other countries [already have], and the Defense [Belgian military] can province logistical support,” he said.
For the initial transport, Belgian authorities would use the Semelka border crossing, now open for trade, official delegations, journalists, humanitarian workers, and Syrian civilians.
Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told to Radio 1 on Thursday of a plan to bring six orphans of Islamic State jihadists slain in Syria.
“The choices their parents made cannot be forgiven nor justified,” he said. “But these are the choices of their parents.”
“A number of children were also abduct[ed] and are sitting [in camps] in terrible circumstances.”
The local Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria have called on foreign states to take back wives and children of Islamic State fighters. So far, the majority of them have not done so.
The Belgian National Security Council in February stated that children who belong to Islamic State fighters under ten years old would receive assistance to return to Belgium. The fate of children over the age of ten, it decided, would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Jo Becker, advocacy director of the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, told Kurdistan 24 that EU nations can be far more active regarding the children's fate.
“Many European governments could do much more to facilitate the return of their child nationals from Iraq and Syria. Very few of these children chose ISIS.”
“They were born under ISIS or taken there by their parents. They should not have to suffer for the actions of their parents,” she added. “They should be repatriated so they can enter school and resume a normal life.”
Some in Belgium, however, have been critical of their government’s decision to take back the orphans.
“No to bringing back children of IS fighters,” former State Secretary for Asylum and Migration and opposition member Theo Francken said in a tweet.
“Their parents are no longer countrymen.”
Editing by John J. Catherine