Madrid has repatriated two Spanish women and 13 children from the unsafe, unsanitary Roj refugee camp in northeast Syria – the first repatriation from the camp so far this year.
The two women were married to Islamic State group fighters, and the Spanish government flew them home from the jihadist camp in Syria with 13 children late on Monday.
They arrived at Torrejon de Ardoz military airport near Madrid, nearly two months after the Spanish government agreed to bring them home.
‘The government has just repatriated two women and 13 Spanish minors from Syrian refugee camps,’ a foreign ministry statement confirmed.
The two women were arrested on arrival and would be brought before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s top criminal court, it said.
A court spokesman confirmed the women would appear in court on Wednesday morning on ‘terrorism-related charges’. The 13 children were taken into the care of the Madrid region’s social services, it said.
The ministry said the extradition had taken ‘several months’ because of the ‘complexity [of the operation] and due to the high-risk situation in the Syrian camps’.
El Mundo newspaper said the pair arrived with their nine children, aged between three and 15, with El Pais saying the other four were orphans who were being looked after by one of the women.
Over the past decade, thousands of extremists in Europe travelled to Syria to become fighters with the Islamic State group (IS), often taking their wives and children to live in the so-called ‘caliphate’ it set up in territory seized in Iraq and Syria.
Since the ‘caliphate’ fell in 2019, the return of family members of fighters who were either captured or killed has been a thorny issue for European countries.
One of the women who returned is reportedly married to an IS fighter who is currently jailed in Syria, while the other is widowed.
The women will face charges of cooperating with a terror organisation for allegedly helping IS. If convicted, they face up to five years behind bars.
They have claimed they were tricked by their husbands into going to Syria and did not participate in any jihadist activities, El Pais newspaper reported in November.
The ‘Save The Children’ organisation applauded the repatriation – saying it was the first time the Spanish government had brought nationals back home from either Roj or Al Hol camps.
Conditions in both camps continue to be dire, with winter seeing children forced to sleep in tents in zero-degree temperatures, as well as the heightened risks of fires spreading as people struggle to stay warm.
Last year, a record 517 children and women were repatriated from Al Hol and Roj camps by 12 countries representing a 60% increase compared to 2021 and 84% from 2020, Save The Children said.
Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands have also repatriated relatives of jihadist fighters.
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