Dutch minister refuses US offer to help repatriate ISIS women and their children in Syria

Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus told parliament in the Hague on Friday that the Netherlands has refused a request to facilitate the transfer of ten Dutch women accused of joining the Islamic State and their children back home.
author_image Wladimir van Wilgenburg

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus told parliament in the Hague on Friday that the Netherlands has refused a US offer to facilitate the transfer home of ten Dutch women accused of joining the Islamic State and their children.

“On 28 June 2019, the US offered the Netherlands assistance with the repatriation of these 10 women and their children,” the minister said, but added that their return could result in “direct risks to the national security of the Netherlands” and other European countries.

The statement came roughly six months after his government stated it was seeking options to cooperate with local authorities in northeast Syria for the return of women affiliated to the extremist group and related minors.

Read More: Netherlands coordinating with Syrian Kurds for return of ISIS females

Grapperhaus said the offer was discussed with the United States, but that current national policy did not allow for the returns. This appears at odds with past Dutch government statements that have said there was no official restrictions against repatriating Dutch citizens who joined the Islamic State.

A Dutch court in Rotterdam earlier called on the government to bring back six of them. In June, with the assistance of France, Dutch officials picked up two orphans of Islamic State parents.

Read More: Dutch-French delegation picks up ISIS orphans from northeast Syria

The Dutch Government, however, has said the return of the orphans was a “unique situation,” suggesting that the primary opposition to allowing the families’ repatriation is likely directed at the adult women and not the minors, presumably because they’d be less of a threat. 

Members of Dutch and French delegations that traveled to northeast Syria to pick two orphans of Islamic State parents in June. (Photo: Hawar News Agency)
Members of Dutch and French delegations that traveled to northeast Syria to pick two orphans of Islamic State parents in June. (Photo: Hawar News Agency)

Although US assistance in sending the women and children to the Netherlands by plane would limit risks to Dutch diplomats, who would then not have to travel to the “unsafe northeast Syria,” said Grapperhaus, there would still be other risks involved.

He said it also would be problematic to create relations with “non-recognized, separatists groups and or entities that could create diplomatic risks in relations with countries in the region.”

Most likely, he was referring to Turkey, which opposes the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The group provides the military leadership for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who control camps in Syria where tens of thousands of the women and children are now held.

Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), against which it has fought in a decades-long conflict over Kurdish rights in Turkey. The YPG has denied these links to the PKK and has often accused Turkey of supporting the Islamic State. 

On Wednesday, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said his government would not push for a NATO investigation into Turkey’s possible links to the Islamic State after a report alleged 40 former members were among the ranks of Turkish-backed forces now occupying the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin. 

Read More: Dutch government debates alleged Turkish support for former ISIS members in Afrin

“Turkey is and remains an important partner in the fight against ISIS, including as a member of the anti-ISIS coalition. Turkey has been seriously affected by ISIS terrorism and is taking action against this,” Blok stated. 

Member of the Party for Freedom (PVV), Raymond de Roon, had asked the Dutch government to clarify whether Turkey had trained, recruited, and armed former Islamic State members after the allegations were made in the report, published by the Rojava Information Centre (RIC).

Both the US and SDF have called on countries in the European Union to bring home thousands of their nationals who joined the Islamic State which the Kurdish-led forces captured in Syria, as Iraq has done on a limited scale.

However, most European states have been reluctant to bring back the fighters, women, and their children who are stuck in Syria.

According to Grapperhaus, Italy is so far the only EU member state that has repatriated any of its citizens who fought with the group. In June, it accepted only one of them, named Samir Bougana, after he was transported by US military plane to Italy.

Many EU countries fear that due to a lack of evidence, Islamic State members could be quickly released once they appear in court after returning home.

In late July, the head of a UN team probing the Islamic State’s crimes in Iraq called for the trial of the group’s members in an international tribunal similar to that in Nuremberg that prosecuted prominent Nazi figures after World War II. 

Editing by John J. Catherine