France refused to repatriate a sick woman who joined the Islamic State. She died.

PARIS – A French woman who joined the Islamic State and who had been held in a detention camp in Syria since 2019 died on Tuesday of health complications – a first for a French national, according to her lawyer.

The death was a stark reminder of the plight of the hundreds of European women and children who have been held in camps for almost three years, with no clear end in sight since many governments turned their care over to Kurdish authorities in the country. northeastern Syria.

Marie Dosé, the woman’s lawyer, said she had repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked the French authorities to allow her client to return to France for treatment for severe diabetes.

“I am shocked,” she said, as she announced the woman’s death on Wednesday. “We let women die in camps, knowingly. “

Ms Dosé said the woman was 28 and left a 6-year-old daughter behind, but declined to give their names to protect family privacy. The news was corroborated by a group of French families with relatives detained in Syria and by another French woman detained in the camp through messages on WhatsApp.

France’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The woman’s death shed light on France’s policy towards its nationals linked to the Islamic State, including around 80 women and their 200 children, mostly under the age of 6. Unlike a growing number of European countries, France has resisted calls to repatriate its nationals from the camps, even in a context of deteriorating living conditions and security in environments where jihadist ideology is rife.

Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Sweden have repatriated dozens of children and their mothers in recent months, under pressure from security experts, rights groups and international organizations, including the United Nations.

Security experts and rights groups recognize that European governments face legitimate security challenges and must also be alert to the political dynamics associated with these fears.

The French government has long argued that adult women who joined the Islamic State should be tried in Syria and Iraq. But trying them has so far proved impossible because their potential crimes are unclear and because the Kurdish administration which detains them is not internationally recognized.

Thomas Renard, director of the International Counterterrorism Center in The Hague, said Tuesday’s death was likely the first reported of a European woman in the camps.

But he and Letta Tayler, senior counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, said several European children and dozens of detainees from Middle Eastern countries had also died in foul and disease-infested camps.

Ms Tayler said most of the deaths were “easily preventable” as they were caused by disease, and news of the woman’s death was “emblematic of the neglect of this population” by countries “outsourcing the care of their children. citizens to a non-state actor. “

Ms Dosé, the lawyer, said her client joined IS in 2014 and was captured when his last foot fell in Syria in 2019, before being transferred to Roj detention camp. She had long suffered from severe diabetes, which required insulin doses that were lacking in the camp.

Ms. Dosé said she had sent dozens of emails and letters to the French authorities since 2019 requesting medical repatriation.

“I kept telling them, ‘She will die eventually if you don’t bring her home,'” she said. “Zero response.”

Due to its recent history of terrorist attacks, the repatriation of nationals who left for jihad has long borne a political risk that President Emmanuel Macron has seemed unwilling to take. The current political environment could make such a move even more unlikely, with presidential elections just four months away and issues of security and identity already dominating the campaign.

But the woman’s death on Tuesday could also add to growing pressure on the French government to change course. Earlier this year, a group of women from the Roj camp went on a hunger strike to publicize their plight, and some French lawmakers also took up the issue, denouncing the attitude of the French government.

In an audience letter Released in February, Pierre Morel-À-L’Huissier, a centrist MP, criticized the government’s reluctance to act, calling it “deeply inhuman and irresponsible political cowardice” which could have “disastrous consequences”.

That same month, a delegation of French lawmakers and members of the European Parliament attempted unsuccessfully to gain access to the detention camps. Frédérique Dumas, one of the parliamentarians, said in an interview earlier this year that the group met with a foreign affairs official from the Kurdish-led administration who told them that France was pressuring Kurdish forces to that they do not let them enter the camp.

Ms Dosé said the woman had recently lost hope of being brought back and believed she would die in the camp.

“And until the end I said no,” she said, adding that she had told him: “‘France will eventually repatriate you, she cannot let you die here.'”

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