IS children verdict divides politicians, as US renews offer to help with repatriation


Monday’s court ruling telling the Dutch government that it must do what it can to bring back IS children to the Netherlands, has divided the cabinet but has been welcomed by relatives of the children and by children’s organisations.

Judges in The Hague said the Netherlands must ‘make all possible efforts’ to repatriate some 56 Dutch children in refugee camps in Northern Syria, but is not required to bring back their mothers unless that is unavoidable.

The children ‘did not opt ​​for the caliphate, but now they have to deal with torture, abuse and lack of facilities’ the court said in its ruling, giving the Netherlands two weeks to make progress on the issue.

The US ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, has reiterated that the US is willing to help bring the children, and their mothers, back to the Netherlands. ‘If the Netherlands asks for American help with repatriating the women and children, then we will do all we can to make that possible,’ Hoekstra told broadcaster NOS.

Prime minister Mark Rutte and justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus have said they will now study the ruling closely, but both minister’s parties – the VVD and CDA – are opposed to bringing the children back.

‘We don’t want these children back,’ VVD MP Dilan Yesilgoz said. ‘It is dangerous to bring these children back.’ CDA parliamentarian Madeleine van Toorenburg said on Twittert the verdict was full of risks. ‘The parents will have the right of return through the children,’ she said. ‘I think we should focus on the victims of the genocide.’

Good news

However, children’s rights organisations such as Defence for Children have described the verdict as ‘good news’. And Tineke Ceelen of aid group Stichting Vluchteling said she hoped the children would be brought back as soon as possible, with or without their mothers.

‘Then we can help them to grow up into balanced adults, as a civilised society should do,’ she said.

Parents’ crimes

The Telegraaf newspaper said in an editorial that the ruling had divided the four-party coalition. Nevertheless, the ‘IS children, most of whom are under the age of six, should not be punished for their parents’ crimes,’ the paper said. ‘And if the Kurds will only let the children go with their mothers, then they will be put behind bars as soon as they return to await trial.’

André Seebregts, a lawyer for some of the families, said he expected more clarity in the next two weeks about how the judgment will be implemented.

But he cast doubt on the idea of sending the children to the Netherlands without their mothers. ‘The Kurds have already made it clear several times that they don’t want to separate the children from their mothers,’ he said.

One man at the court showed reporters photographs of the grandchildren he had never seen. ‘I just wonder how much effort the government will put into bringing them back,’ Bert Klein said.

”What sort of country have we become. We want to fight hate with hate. It is time people showed some humanity and kindness. I haven’t seen that in a long time, especially not with this government.’

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