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Germany must repatriate wife and children of suspected IS fighter, court rules

The ruling is the first to order the German government to repatriate the relatives of former Islamic State members
Foreign fighters and their families fled to the Al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria after the collapse of the Islamic State group (AFP/File photo)

A court in Germany has ordered the country's foreign ministry to repatriate the German wife and three children of a suspected Islamic State (IS) fighter, a spokesperson for the court said.

The ruling came after the family sued the foreign ministry for declining a request to help the mother and her three children return to German from Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The court spokesperson added that the ruling is the first of its kind to order the German government to repatriate the family members of alleged IS fighters.

Efforts by the spouses and children of former IS fighters to return to their home countries following the militant group's collapse in Syria and Iraq has spurred a global debate, with several countries so far refusing to repatriate their citizens.

Many relatives of alleged IS fighters have sought refuge in Al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria.

According to the United Nations, as of 26 June the camp held just over 70,000 people - more than 90 percent of whom are women and children.

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In its ruling on Thursday, the German court said the foreign ministry should first verify the identity of the mother and her children before proceeding with their repatriation.

The suspected IS fighter, whose fate is unknown, left Germany for Syria with his wife and two daughters, now aged seven and eight, in 2014, Reuters reported.

His wife had a third child in Syria two years ago, the court spokesman said.

Germany had initially wanted to repatriate the children but not the mother. 

A German foreign ministry spokesman said the government was studying the ruling and may appeal at a higher court, Reuters said.

A lawyer for the family did not respond to a request for comment from the news agency.

Germany also previously said that it would bring back children of suspected IS fighters and designate relatives to be their legal custodians.

Several European countries, including Belgium and France, have said they would repatriate the children of IS fighters as well.

Belgium has said it would immediately repatriate children under age 10, but would consider the repatriation of those between the ages of 11 and 18 on a case-by-case basis.

Similarly, France has said that it would take back foreign fighters and their families on a case-by-case basis. 

For its part, Britain has said it would consider taking back the children of foreign fighters if they seek asylum in a third country outside of Syria.