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France repatriates 'several' young children from camps in northern Syria

Move comes amid global debate over repatriation of Islamic State supporters and their children
Many foreign-born IS supporters and children are living in camps in north Syria (AFP/File photo)

France has repatriated several young children, all orphans under the age of five, from displacement camps in northeast Syria, the country's foreign ministry confirmed.

In a statement on Friday, the ministry said it made the decision because the youngsters were "particularly vulnerable".

The children were all "orphaned and isolated, aged five years and under," the statement said.

France did not say how many children it had agreed to repatriate or who their parents are, but added that the children's relatives were informed of their repatriation.

The ministry's statement did make mention of French citizens who left the country to join the Islamic State (IS) group.

In that regard, "France's position has not changed," it said. "They must be judged in the territory where they committed their crimes. It's a matter of both justice and security."

The repatriation comes as countries across Europe and elsewhere grapple with what to do with nationals who joined IS in Syria and Iraq and who are now seeking to return home as the militant group is almost defeated.

Shamima Begum case highlights 'two-tier' British citizenship system, experts warn
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In Britain, 19-year-old Shamima Begum has been at the centre of an ongoing debate after she was stripped of her UK citizenship. The teenager, who joined IS in Syria at 15, expressed her desire to come back home earlier this year.

This month, her infant son died in a camp in northern Syria as Begum continued to appeal to the UK government to allow her to return.

The case has led to serious criticism of the UK government, which has been accused of rendering Begum stateless and abandoning her and her young child who died.

In the United States, the State Department recently said it would not allow a woman to return to the country after she left to join IS in Syria.

The US government has argued that Hoda Muthana is not a US citizen and therefore she has no right to enter the country.

Still, her family and lawyer say that the Trump administration's claims are false - and she is, in fact, a US citizen - and they have vowed to take the case to court.

"They're playing games with the vague language, and they're going to see us in court," Muthana's lawyer, Hassan Shibly, told Middle East Eye in February.