Court gives Belgium 75 days to repatriate IS woman and children from Syria

Court gives Belgium 75 days to repatriate IS woman and children from Syria
Belgium was ordered to repatriate ten children of Belgian Islamic State members from Syria, in a ruling which did not concern the parents. © Belga

Belgium must repatriate a Belgian woman and her children from Syria within 75 days, the Brussels court of first instance ruled on Wednesday.

The ruling, delivered as a summary judgement by the court, concerns a 23-year-old woman and her two children, currently staying in the refugee camp of Roj in Syria.

The woman's lawyer, Nicolas Cohen, confirmed to RTBF that the court had ordered the repatriation to be organised by Belgium within a 75-day period.

"According to the court, the children have the subjective right to protection by the Belgian state — mother and children have the right to be protected against inhuman and degrading treatment and they have the right to consular protection from the Belgian state," Cohen said, according to Bruzz.

The repatriation of six, mostly orphaned children, from the Al-Hol camp in June, further informed the court's decision, the lawyer said.

"I am not sure whether [this ruling] will create a judicial precedent, but it is a binding judgment," Cohen said, adding: "From a legal point of view, it is a great victory."

The ruling comes as a Brussels court examines a separate request by two women in Syria with their children to be brought back to Belgium after their request was twice rejected before.

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The ruling comes as pressure mounts on Belgium and other European nations to decide on the fate of their IS fighters, following a Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria that replunged the region into chaos, leading to the escape of several IS fighters and their relatives, some of them Belgian.

The woman in question is believed to have followed her radicalised father to Syria in 2015, but she regretted her departure and told a journalist that she wanted to return to Belgium and face trial, RTBF reports.

At least seven Belgian women and 11 children aged three to six-years-old, with one aged 9, are thought to be living in the camp of Roj, which as of May, housed 1,700 people in a surface of 0.10 square kilometres.

The ruling on Wednesday raises questions regarding Belgium's approach to its foreign fighters in Syria, after it repeatedly said it would only repatriate children under ten, insisting their parents should face trial in the region.

At least 55 foreign fighters and 69 children with ties to Belgium are thought to still remain in Syria, according to reports of figures by counter-terrorism agency OCAM.

In an interview with De Morgen on Thursday, the US ambassador in Belgium renewed US calls for Belgian leaders to take responsibility for their IS fighters, offering to "share" information with Belgium if it "became serious" about the repatriations.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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