THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Lawyers representing Dutch women who joined the Islamic State group and are now detained in Syrian refugee camps demanded Friday that the Netherlands allow the women and their children to return to their home country.
Twenty-three women and 56 children are being represented by five separate law firms in the case. All of them are currently living in two refugee camps, al-Hol and al-Roj, in northern Syria, near the Turkish border.
“The government is obliged to do its utmost to prevent serious human rights violations for its nationals,” André Seebregts, a lawyer for some of the women, argued before the District Court of The Hague.
Seebregts, who traveled to one of the camps earlier this year, described the conditions as terrible with a lack of food and medical facilities.
“There is a lot of violence and hundreds of people have died,” he said in a packed courtroom Friday.
All but two of the women are Dutch nationals who traveled to the region over the past few years to support the Islamic State terrorist group or follow their husbands. Two of the women are not Dutch but were or are married to Dutch men, with whom they have children.
The youngest child is 2 weeks old and the oldest is 12 years old. The Dutch government estimates that, in total, there are 15 men, 35 women and 90 children with Dutch nationality in refugee camps in Syria and Iraq.
State Advocate Reimer Veldhuis argued that the women traveled to Syria of their own volition and called them a “threat to Dutch society.” The Netherlands has claimed that it is too dangerous to travel to the region to retrieve anyone.
Another lawyer for the women, Tom de Boer, countered that arrangements could be made to remove the women, noting that other European countries have done so.
The Dutch government did retrieve two orphans from the region earlier this year after a court awarded guardianship of the 2-year-old and 4-year-old children to the state.
The Netherlands’ Public Prosecution Service and General Intelligence and Security Service have both called for Dutch citizens who joined the Islamic State to be returned to the Netherlands to face prosecution.
Seebregts said his clients understand the consequences.
“They are aware that they will be arrested when they return,” he said.
The women face various charges, ranging from membership in a terrorist organization to traveling abroad to fight on behalf of a terrorist organization.
Two of the women, one identified as Fatima H. and the other unnamed, escaped from the al-Hol camp earlier this month and made it to the Dutch embassy in Ankara, Turkey.
According to a letter from Dutch officials to parliament on Thursday, Fatima H., who grew up in the southern town of Tilburg, has been stripped of her Dutch nationality. The other woman was not. The Dutch government can revoke the citizenship of dual nationals and Fatima H. also carried a Moroccan passport.
Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus has requested the extradition of the unnamed woman to the Netherlands to face charges.
A number of Yazidi refugees in the Netherlands are opposed to the extradition of the women. The Yazidis are a religious minority group indigenous to Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
“Thousands of Yazidis women are still trapped in refugee camps in northern Iraq. The Dutch government should help these people, not the IS supporters,” Dalal Ghanim told Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
Ghanim, 23, escaped from the Islamic State several years ago and made her way to the Netherlands. Most of her family is still trapped in IS territory.
Should the Dutch women win their case, it’s unclear if the government will attempt to return the women to the Netherlands. A court in Rotterdam ruled earlier this year that the government should enforce an extradition request for several other people in the same refugee camp, but so far officials have not taken any action.
A ruling is expected in the next two weeks.