Court orders Netherlands to bring back kids, but not mothers, stuck in Syria

Refugee camp in Idlib, Syria
A child peaks out from under a tent wall at a refugee camp in Idlib, Syria. May 18, 2019Photo: ikurucan/DepositPhotos

A court in Den Haag ordered the Netherlands to quickly bring 56 children of Dutch parents back to the country from Syrian detention and displacement camps. The case was filed on behalf of 23 mothers living in the camps.

In its verdict, the court noted that "the children have not chosen to go to Syria or to stay in Syria. They are sitting there now because their parents have chosen to travel to the Caliphate and join IS."

The Netherlands must accept the help of foreign governments, if necessary, including an offer of assistance by the United States and the Syrian Kurds to repatriate the children. 

The oldest child among the 56 kids is 12 years of age and at least one is a newborn infant, according to the court. About 40 of them are younger than six, the court said in its ruling.

Because the mothers themselves are alleged to have voluntarily traveled to ISIS-held territory either to join the Islamic State or to be with partners who participate as enemy combatants, the court did not mandate that the Dutch women had to be repatriated to the Netherlands. 

However, if the Kurdish authorities in the region do not allow the kids to be transported alone, the Netherlands might be compelled to bring the women back to Europe. "They deliberately went to Syria or Iraq to join IS, a terrorist organization. They knew that that organization is guilty of repugnant and grave crimes. The women must be tried for that," the court ruled.

Should the women be transported to the Netherlands, they will be immediately arrested and detained under suspicion of participating in a terrorist organization, the national prosecutor's office said.

At the same time, it is not clear if Kurdish forces are willing to release female prisoners which they say deserve to be punished there for their crimes. The Dutch government also wants their trials to take place in the region, the court said.

About 140 Dutch people are being held in camps in Northern Syria, according to intelligence service AIVD. It includes about 85 children, 40 women, and 15 men.

The Dutch government did not respond to the verdict immediately after it was revealed. Previously, the party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was open to the idea of bringing the children back to the Netherlands, but not their parents.