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    Children of Jihadists are French Citizens & Have Right to Aid From State - Prof

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    France plans to repatriate children of suspected French militants from Iraq and Syria. The French government previously refused to take back families of fighters over the threat of homegrown terrorism. However, media reports suggest that Paris is now concerned that if the minors are left in Syria they could eventually become militants.

    Sputnik has discussed this with Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen, associate professor and leader of the international relations program at the Norwegian University of Life Science and one of the world's leading experts on Islamists.

    Sputnik: Why in your view did France decide to change its policy and repatriate some of these families and children of fighters?

    Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen: I think this has been a heavy discussion all over Europe. We have to remember that it's actually common standard amongst international states that you have something called duty of care.

    Basically, a duty to protect your citizens outside of your country; citizens that are traveling and for most countries, although a lot of people don't know it, for most countries this actually also includes criminals. There has been a large discussion in many countries about what to do with these Islamic State* [Daesh] fighters. But you've seen that France used to repatriate children earlier from the Baghdad area. It's easier to access them in the Baghdad area, but I think it has been an ongoing process in France.

    And the French state has balanced this duty of care towards children in this case, who didn't have any choice in going to Iraq because it was their mothers and sometimes even their fathers who brought them there; and they found out that they have citizen protection as well, and you can see that some of the lawyers of several of their fathers and mothers have been fighting this in the French courts but they haven't been reaching through in the court system as of yet.

    But this is an acknowledgment that actually those children are French citizens and they really should have the right to have some kind of aid from the French state.

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    Sputnik: I know that their return to France is supposed to be dependent on whether the mothers agree to be separated from the children, this is separating the children from the parents and bringing them back or they are being brought back with mothers and the children?

    Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen: Yes. I think from what we are told now, it is, in general, separating them from their parents, but we should remember though that some of these parents, as mothers, could be cases where actually the mothers have not really participated in the fighting but rather stayed behind and watched their families.

    So they are Islamic State sympathizers, but not agents, not active participants in the civil war and that also makes the case with the mothers a little bit touchy; but so far France has chosen not to help such mothers. But we can see that other European states have chosen other policies. If some of these ladies that went have expressed regret or their family is saying that they regret going there, for example, in Norway, there have been efforts to help those families getting their ladies back to Norway.

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    Sputnik: But then there's a situation when you have a child that's separated from his parents and at some point could communicate with their parents, find their parents and if the parents are still sympathizers what kind of threat does that present?

    Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen: Yes, that's the thing. That's another thing that's easy to forget. What we've seen from research, it's actually quite acknowledged research, is that the likelihood of parents, that have been fighting with Islamic State, of returning foreign fighters, to commit further jihadist violence is actually rather low. You know, just after the travel started there was research suggesting that there's one out of nine in danger, but now the research suggests that maybe as little as one of the 360 actually commits (acts of) terrorism when they return to their countries.

    So we're talking about low risk, but we're also talking about a balance that European countries have been discussing; mainly the balance of providing help to what are criminal citizens towards the balance of distancing yourself from actually what could have been seen as traitors in the sense that they allied with an organization that has been committing terrorism in Germany, in France, and in many other European countries.

    They have explicitly distanced themselves from those countries. For me, who has been doing research on this, it's still a little bit puzzling because in other criminal cases it's accepted also that criminals in general also have some rights to help from their country of origin.

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    Sputnik: If we talk about the children themselves through what kind of risk factors are there surrounding the fact that France will repatriate them? Many of these children I understand are under the age of six, can you talk a little bit about what is thought to be their future prospects, will they be in state care, will there be efforts made?

    Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen: I would presume that they will be under the French childcare authorities. I would also presume that this is probably going to be a rather high focus operation on behalf of France. So they're going to put a lot of resources into it, but of course, there will be problems. They will have this family history when they return and be vulnerable to problems when they're supposed to resettle into French society and not only becoming jihadists but also being exposed to entering into crime and these things if the French authorities don't watch them properly. The likelihood of individuals entering into crime when they're removed from their families is actually quite real.

    Sputnik: If they blame the French government for separating them from their families and if they do keep in contact with families who may have Islamist or terrorist sentiments what would you do to keep that from happening? You want to be ethical here, you can't brainwash the children and tell them that their parents are evil, but on the other hand, you want the children to adapt to French society…

    Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen: Yes, the good news here is that the French deradicalization and countering violence efforts have developed a lot over the last 5-6 years. So they have become better at this, but of course, there is an ethical dilemma there, separating them from their families and there's also an ethical dilemma in a splitting of the rights of your own citizens.

    Views and opinions expressed in the article are those of Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    *Daesh, also known as IS/ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State, is a terrorist organization, banned in Russia


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