Open letter from the Collectif des Familles Unies/France to the members of the European Parliament Paris,

October 30th, 2019

Dear Member of the European Parliament,

Please find below a letter from our group. We are the  » Collectif des Familles Unies », a French association bringing together more than one hundred families who have seen a loved one leave for Syria or Iraq. We are fighting against the ideology that led them to leave for these conflict zones.

In the name of the principles of law, democracy and the rights of the child, we call for the repatriation of all European children who are surviving in the Syrian camps under the dreadful conditions denounced by numerous NGOs, by UNICEF and the Red Cross. We call for these repatriations to take place as quickly as possible, and for the repatriation of their mothers, in conformity with the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In an open letter to European governments, dated September 11th 2019, American security professionals, including Brett McGurk, the former Special Advisor to the US National Security Council, pleaded, for reasons of security and to preserve the future, for the repatriation of children to their country of origin, but also for the adults, men and women, so that they can be judged in their own country. Leaving European citizens in Syria and Iraq means preparing the resurgence of the so-called Islamic State in the years to come. These security professionals indicate that if the European countries do not commit to repatriation, they will pay for it later: The choice, then, is clear: pay a relatively small price now, or pay a huge price later.” See 

We hope that you will be able to express the voice of reason, and to take action vis-à vis the governments of the European Union, so that international conventions and the principle of the protection of the child will be upheld.

In view of the gravity of this situation, unprecedented in the history of our Republic and of the European Union, our “Collectif de Familles Unies” would willingly be received by a commission of the European Parliament.

With great respect, yours sincerely,

Le « Collectif des Familles Unies » / France

Paris, October 30th, 2019


Hundreds of innocent European children are currently held prisoner with their mothers in northeastern Syria, in the camps of Al Hol, Roj and Ain Issa. They are under the command of Kurdish forces, though the Ain Issa camp is now out of control. Some of these children have been detained for two years, others since the fall of the last bastion of Islamic State in Baghouz, last March. The majority of these children are under the age of five, and almost all are under age 12.

The Turkish armed offensive in northeastern Syria has again plunged the country into chaos. Civilian populations are severely affected by bombardments and fighting, and the children imprisoned in the camps are again subjected to the fear and violence of war.The conflict affects the provision of water and food, and the action of humanitarian organisations is impeded. Some, such as MSF, have left the zone. Cease-fires are precarious and can break down at any moment. The future of Syrian Kurdistan is more uncertain than ever, with Turkey, Russia and Bashar al-Asad, threatened by Islamic State, all present. Locked in behind fences and barbed wire, living in cloth tents, the children and their mothers have no way of protecting themselves in the event of bombardments or fighting. They risk being killed or seriously wounded at any moment.

The situation of the children in the Syrian camps is tragic and doubtless constitutes one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of recent years. Every day, children are dying in the Al Hol camp of malnutrition, from accidents, infections, illness and ill treated wounds. Their daily life is an unending hell, and those who survive are in danger of death. The humanitarian organisations who try to act in northeastrn Syria, like UNICEF or the Red Cross, have been sounding the alarm for months regarding  the predicament of these children, and in particular regarding those who could benefit from the help of their country of origin and repatriation. UNICEF insists on the fact that these foreign children held in Syria “are among the most vulnerable children in the world,”adding that these children “live in dreadful conditions, with their health, security and well-being constantly threatened.”

Faced with the scale of the humanitarian disaster of which these children are victims,international institutions have advocated the repatriation of the children to their country of orgin. The Commissioner for Children’s Rights of the Council of Europe has called on European states to repatriate their underage citizens, adding, “I also exhort them to envisage the repatriation of their mothers, in the respect of the higher interest of the child.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, appealed in June 2019 for the repatriation of families of jihadists. She said that “children, in particular, have suffered grave violations of their rights.”

The European children imprisoned in the camps in Syria are deprived of all their fundamental rights: the right to life and to development; the right to identity; the right to be protected against all forms of violence; the right to health; the right to school education; the right not to be arbitrarily detained. The are also deprived of the right to be rescued! Article 2 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child says: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.” The respect and enforcement of this text should be an absolute priority for the governments of democratic Europe. Unfortunately, it is exactly the opposite which is happening at the moment. Innocent European children are condmend to prison and exile because of the choices of their parents.

In the face of the tragic plight of foreign children imprisoned in Syria, some countries have assumed their responsabilities: the US, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Algeria, among others, repatriate their citizens, in particular the children. European countries, who were pioneers in the promotion of children’s rights, try to find every legal and political pretext for evading the obligations which they themselves set regarding the protection of children. This refusal to apply international conventions shows a stunning lack of humanity towards children. Certain countries have resorted to a “case by case” doctrine which, as far as one can tell, means repatriating only orphans, thus creating unbearable discrimination between children when all, by definition, are in a state of immense vulnerability.

Children who are not orphans and who are imprisoned with their mothers are condemned to survive in tragic conditions in the camps of a country at war. Brought there by their parents, or born in the zone, these children are the victims of the ideology that led their parents to leave for Syria and Iraq. They did not choose anything. They had no part in these harmful decisions. They are above all innocents, victims of Islamic State and victims of war.

Despite all the appeals of humanitarian organisations and international bodies, the European countries remain for the time being deaf to the distress of children. The European countries have the capacity to repatriate these children. We saw it when they repatriated the orphans. At present, the hesitation of European countries over months has made it much more difficult to repatriate them, but it is still possible. It is enough to decide. Kurdish leaders have been asking for months for foreign prisoners to be repatriated to their countries, most of all children. The authorities of our countries have made a deliberate choice to let European children suffer and die in Syria. For how long? To what purpose? It is an incomprehensible choice for the families, the grand-parents, the aunts and uncles of these children. Each additional day spent in these camps damages these children, already traumatised by grief and war, a little more.

Because they did not take the right decisions to repatriate European citizens and in particular the children, faced with an evolving situation that is mostly unforeseeable, European countries have no control. And it is the children who suffer the most from the lack of courage and the blindness of our governments, which is a true failure of our values. The innocent European children imprisoned in camps in Syria have already suffered enough. The have lived through bombardments, the loss of loved ones, wounds, sickness, fear, trauma, the dreadful life of the camps. The deprivation of their future is tantamount to a death sentence foretold. They are still confronted with the horrors of war, directly threatened and exposed to death. Can democratic Europe, the Europe of human rights, the Europe which initiated and supported all international initiatives for the rights of children, betray itself to such a point by abandoning its children?

The European childrn must not fall into the hands of Islamic State. They must not be handed over to Bashar al-Asad or to Iraq. The Collectif des Familles Unies/France calls for the immediate repatriation of the European children imprisoned in Syria and their parents. These children, already weakened by the heat of summer and dangerously polluted air, must not spend another winter in tents, subjected to the dangers of war. It is a question of humanity, of respect for fundamental principles and the protection of children. Concerning the adults, in view of the risk of dispersal, it is a question of European security.

We appeal to you to take action before the governments of Europe so that these children will be repatriated to their countries as quickly as possible. It is a question of life and death.

October 30th, 2019

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