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EU States Snub Trump’s Call to Repatriate Syria Militants

EU States Snub Trump’s Call to Repatriate Syria Militants

Monday, 18 February, 2019 - 08:30
FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Reuters
Asharq Al-Awsat
The German foreign minister said it would be "extremely difficult" to organize the repatriation of European nationals in Syria who had joined ISIS, in response to a call by US President Donald Trump.

A return could only be possible if "we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained," Heiko Maas told ARD television late Sunday.

For this, "we need judicial information, and this is not yet the case," he said. Under such conditions a repatriation would be "extremely difficult to achieve".

Berlin wants to "consult with France and Britain... over how to proceed," he said.

The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues "the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground," according to an agenda for the talks.

Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back militants captured in Syria.

After years of fighting ISIS, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for the extremist group, and well as related women and children.

Syria's Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.

"The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial," Trump said in a tweet.

France's justice minister said on Monday Paris will for now not act on Trump's call.

"There is a new geo-political context, with the US withdrawal. For the time being we are not changing our policy," Nicole Belloubet told France 2 television. "At this stage France is not responding to (Trump's) demands."

French government policy had been to categorically refuse to take back militants and their wives. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian referred to them as "enemies" of the nation who should face justice either in Syria or Iraq.

But the prospect of the United States' withdrawal from Syria has forced France to prepare for the return of dozens of French militants held by the Kurds, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner acknowledged in late January.

Paris is already trying to repatriate minors on a case-by-case basis.

In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a "European solution" on Sunday, urging for "calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks".

Russia can be seen as a pioneer in systematically returning children of militants home.

Earlier this month, 27 children, from four to 13 years old, were flown from Iraq to the Moscow region.

Russian authorities have given sometimes conflicting figures of returnees. Kheda Saratova, an adviser to Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, said that about 200 children have been brought to Russia, but nearly 1,400 are still stuck in Iraq and Syria.

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