Second group of Belgian jihadi brides and their children repatriated

The Belgian government has repatriated a group of Belgian jihadi brides and their children from Syria. The repatriation of the women has come about as a result of a decision taken by the Federal Government in March 2021 to repatriate all children of IS terrorists that are under the age of 12. VRT News sources say that a total of 6 women and 16 children have been repatriated. 

The plane with the women and children touched down at Melsbroek Military Airport in Flemish Brabant on Monday night. They had been collected from the al-Roj detention camp in northern Syria yesterday. A Belgian delegation had traveled to the camp last month and DNA samples were taken to determine whether the children are in fact Belgian. The delegation also talked to the women to make absolutely sure that they want to return to Belgium and that they have completely renounced the ideology of ​​IS.

The women left Belgium for Syria in 2013 and 2014 to join the Islamic State terrorist group. Some left with or to join their husbands, while others married an IS fighter while in the self-proclaimed Caliphate.

The women’s husbands have since died or are in prison. The women have spent the last few years at one of the Kurdish prison camps in northeast Syria. 5 of the women are mothers of the children that have been allowed to return. The other is a grandmother of (some of the children). Two of the mothers are from Antwerp, two are from Brussels and one is from East Flanders.

Repatriating children under 12

In March 2021, the Belgian government decided to that children under the age of 12 should be repatriated from detention camps in northern Syria. This decision was taken for humanitarian reasons. These are small children living in very harsh conditions. Several of them are also in need of urgent medical care. In recent years, six Belgian children are believed to have died in the camps. This increased the pressure on the government to take action.

In addition to this the situation in the detention camps remains unstable. The influence of IS remains strong there and so the camps remain a breeding ground for radicalisation. There is a real risk that they the women and their children could disappear and would no longer be on the Belgian security services' radar. If the women and children are in Belgium they will be able to be better monitored. Last summer, a first group of six women and ten children was repatriated from the al-Roj camp.

What happens to those that return?

The women that have return today and have previously been convicted of membership of a terrorist organisation. They were taken straight to prison on their arrival in Belgium. Their children were taken to a hospital and a Juvenile Court judge is now responsible for ensuring that they are cared for. Together with other childcare and protection services, the judge will decide whether the children can be placed with family or they were be sent to a children’s home.

Both the mothers and the children will be intensively supervised to facilitate their reintegration into society. Professor Gerrit Loots of Brussels Dutch-medium free university VUB and the clinical psychologist Hannan Jamaï told VRT News that the mothers that have returned to Syria so far,  have responded positively to the guidance given and are open to it. 

The women have been studying and working since they were in prison in order to be able to live in society again and to offer their children a future. The Terror Threat Analysis Centre OCAD also says the experience so far has been predominantly positive.

5 women and 8 children remain in Syria

Following what was the second repatriation, 5 women and 8 children are believed to remain in detention camps in northern Syria. 

Two women are not allowed to return because they have no children. One of them had a child, but he died. Another mother with one child may not return because she no longer has Belgian nationality after it was revoked by a court. 

The woman does not want her child to return to Belgium alone, for fear that she will never see it again. There is also at least one mother who does not wish to return to Belgium, preferring instead to remain in Syria with her four children.

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