France shifts stance on returning extremists as US withdraws from Syria

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner attends a ceremony at the Police Prefecture in Paris, France, December 20, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 29 January 2019
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France shifts stance on returning extremists as US withdraws from Syria

  • Government policy until now has been to categorically refuse to take back fighters and their wives
  • Washington’s decision to withdraw from Syria quickly has left Paris fearing that French extremists will either disperse or fall into the hands of the Syrian government

PARIS: France is preparing for the return of dozens of French extremists held by Kurdish authorities in Syria after the United States announced the withdrawal of its forces, its interior minister said on Tuesday, marking a shift in Paris’ policy on the issue.
France, like other European nations, has been wrestling with how to handle suspected militants and their families seeking to return from combat zones in Iraq and Syria, as well as those in detention, after Daesh lost huge swathes of territory.
Government policy until now has been to categorically refuse to take back fighters and their wives. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has categorized them as “enemies” of the nation who should face justice either in Syria or Iraq.
“The Americans are disengaging from Syria and there are people who are in prison and held because the Americans are there and they will be released. They will want to come back to France,” Christophe Castaner told BFM TV.
“I want all those who return to France to be put immediately into the hands of justice,” he added, responding to an unsourced report by BFM that 130 French extremists wil be released in the coming weeks.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which have been backed by 2,000 US troops and air support from nations including France, are holding about 150 French citizens in north-eastern Syria, including 50 adults, according to military and diplomatic sources.
Excluding families, officials estimate 250 French extremists are still fighting in Syria, including 150 in the Hajjin area, one of the final bits of territory held by Daesh in eastern Syria, and 100 in Idlib province.
French officials in private say that they will have no choice but to change policy on citizens who went as jihadists to fight in the Middle East. Paris is already trying to repatriate minors on a case-by-case basis.
Washington’s decision to withdraw from Syria quickly has left Paris fearing that French extremists will either disperse or fall into the hands of the Syrian government if the Kurdish-led forces strike a peace deal with the government in Damascus.
“Given the evolution of the military situation in north-east Syria, American decisions, and to ensure the safety of the French people, we are examining all options to avoid the escape and dispersion of these potentially dangerous people,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told a daily briefing on Tuesday.
As well as the headache of how to deal with returning extremists, France is grappling with the threat of homegrown militancy after suffering a series of deadly militant attacks over the past three years.


Flight attendant detained by immigration on return to US

Updated 2 min 58 sec ago
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Flight attendant detained by immigration on return to US

  • Selene Saavedra Roma immigrated illegally to the US from Peru as a child and was later married to an American citizen
  • Enrolled in the government’s program for “Dreamers”, she flew to Mexico for work and was detained due to lack of valid document

WASHINGTON: A Texas flight attendant who was enrolled in the government’s program for “Dreamers” flew to Mexico for work and was stopped by immigration authorities who forced her to spend more than a month in detention, her attorney said.
Selene Saavedra Roman, 28, who immigrated illegally to the US as a child, was released Friday from a detention center in Conroe, Texas, according to a statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Originally from Peru and married to an American citizen, she raised concerns with Mesa Airlines about her immigration status after being assigned to an international flight, attorney Belinda Arroyo said.
The airline assured her she would be fine, but she was stopped by US authorities on Feb. 12, when she returned to Houston, and was sent to detention, where she remained for more than five weeks, Arroyo said.
Soon after her lawyer, her husband, the airline and a flight attendants’ group publicly demanded her release, Saavedra Roman called to tell her husband she was getting out.
“She was crying and she said, ‘Please come get me,’” her husband, David Watkins, told reporters.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency was looking into her status. Earlier, the agency said Saavedra Roman did not have a valid document to enter the country and was being detained while going through immigration court proceedings.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services — the agency that oversees the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — declined to discuss the case. But the agency says on its website that participants who travel outside the country without a special document allowing them to do so are no longer covered by the program.
The agency no longer issues the document to the program’s enrollees, according to the website.
People enrolled in the program are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act.
The Trump administration sought to end the Obama-era program but was blocked by litigation. New applications have been halted, but renewals continue for hundreds of thousands of immigrants already enrolled.
In a joint statement with the Association of Flight Attendants, Mesa Airlines chief executive Jonathan Ornstein apologized to Saavedra Roman and asked US authorities to release her, arguing that it was unfair to continually detain someone “over something that is nothing more than an administrative error and a misunderstanding.”
“She should have never been advised that she could travel,” Arroyo said. “It was a big mistake.”
Saavedra Roman — who is scheduled to appear before an immigration judge in April — attended Texas A&M University, where she met her husband.
Watkins said he was not initially worried about her assignment because they already obtained approval from Citizenship and Immigration Services to apply for her green card as the wife of an American citizen. She has no criminal record and has long paid her taxes, he said, and she checked with her employer before the trip.
Then she was detained. He could visit her only once a week and could only see her through thick glass. She sounded hopeless, he said.
“I told her, ‘Even if you get deported to Peru, I’ll just go with you,’” he said to reporters. “Regardless of whatever happens in the future, I am not giving up. I am going to keep fighting.”
In a statement, the union representing Saavedra Roman and her colleagues said the event “highlights the urgency of commonsense immigration reform and resolution for America’s children who are part of DACA.”