And when Belgium announced, last March, its intention to return the women who joined ISIS with their children, Jesse, 43, felt relieved despite knowing that she would spend years in prison, in order to “ensure the future of her children in schools” after their father was involved in violence and fighting, As she put it.
Jesse and her two children have lived for at least two years in concentration camps in Syria. “Maybe they realize that those who want to return feel sorry and look forward to a second chance,” she told the newspaper.
The Belgian national, a former money changer, traveled to Syria with her husband in 2014. She is currently isolated from everyone in Roj camp, and is staying in her tent with her first three-year-old and five-year-old children.
Mehmet Ozdemir, Jesse’s lawyer, comments: “Any woman who wants to return to Belgium must prove that she does not want to harm her country, and that she distances herself from the ideology of ISIS.”
Last February, UN human rights experts said that according to international law, states must take back their citizens and prosecute adults from them on charges of committing war crimes or other charges if there is evidence and fair trials in local courts.
On the other hand, several European countries have refrained from allowing the return of people linked to ISIS, but some, such as Belgium and Finland, have heeded the advice of security experts and rights groups, who say that “repatriation is the safest option.”
In light of the controversy taking place in Britain over the return of citizens involved in “terrorism cases” in Syria, Shamima Begum, known in the media as “the bride of ISIS”, was seen with her “western clothes and straight hair”, outside the Roj camp (northeastern Syria), as he put it. British newspaper “The Telegraph”.
Two years after ISIS lost its last foothold in Syria, more than 200 women from 11 European countries and 650 children live in two Syrian camps (Al-Hol and Rouge), according to figures compiled by Thomas Renard, a researcher at the Egmont Institute.
Although Europeans represent a fraction of the 60,000 people detained in the camps, most of them Iraqis and Syrians, European governments are facing increasing pressure to repatriate their citizens in order not to violate their human rights obligations.
Security experts who have been to ISIS families’ home grounds acknowledge that European governments face legitimate security concerns, along with political dynamics in countries that fear terrorist attacks.
On the other hand, some intelligence and security services say that leaving European citizens in Syria may lead to greater risks, including joining terrorist groups that may target Europe.
Countries such as the United States, Kazakhstan and Turkey have brought back many of their citizens for prosecution and, in some cases, have been reintegrated into society, according to the New York Times.
Belgian Justice Minister Vincent van Quekenborn announced that his government would organize the repatriation of 13 women and 27 of their children within months after the country’s intelligence services reported that ISIS was gaining strength in the camps.
He noted that the authorities had received “clear advice” that bringing women and children to Belgium was the safest option.
An internal EU document this year also described the al-Hol camp as a “small caliphate”.
In turn, human rights groups confirmed that the children did not make any mistake and that they suffer from disease, malnutrition and sexual abuse, knowing that hundreds of them died, as well as recording cases of Coronavirus in the camps, according to what the report quoted from Save the Children organization.
It is noteworthy that Britain has stripped about 20 women of their citizenship for joining ISIS, and France has rejected many calls to return home, while the Netherlands and Sweden have confirmed that they may receive children, but without their mothers.
The Belgian repatriation plan is likely to put pressure on neighboring France, which has the largest group of citizens in Europe in camps and prisons in Iraq and Syria.