Tunisian families battle to repatriate children of militants

Taheyya, a grandmother from the Tunisian city of Kairouan, about 160 kilometres south of the capital Tunis, is pictured with her grandchildren whose uncle was killed in Syria, at her home on March 9, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 13 July 2020

Tunisian families battle to repatriate children of militants

  • Tunisians have constituted one of the largest groups of foreign militants in Syria, Iraq and Libya since 2011, with almost 3,000 departures, according to the Tunisian authorities

KAIROUAN, TUNISIA: Over WhatsApp from Tunisia, Taheyya has watched her grandchildren grow up in Syria, where her son joined a militant group.
She hopes one day to be able to hold the three surviving siblings in her arms, but for now they are stuck in a displacement camp in the war-torn country.
“These are our grandchildren. All we are asking is to be able to take care of them, for them to live somewhere other than in war, poverty and ignorance,” Taheyya said.
Like others AFP spoke to, she preferred not to provide her surname for fear of reprisals against the children.
For three years, Taheyya has done the rounds of ministries and NGOs to try to repatriate her three-year-old granddaughter and two grandsons, aged five and six.
Their father left for Syria in 2012, where he joined Daesh group and was killed.
She said the eldest grandchild needed treatment for a head injury, and two other siblings have already died because of a lack of medical care.
In a folder, Taheyya carefully keeps a bundle of documents that sums up their torturous lives: Pixelated photos, identity papers issued by the fleeting IS caliphate.
The children now live in a camp on the Turkish-Syrian border with their mother, a young Syrian who was married when she was not yet 14.
Tunisians have constituted one of the largest groups of foreign militants in Syria, Iraq and Libya since 2011, with almost 3,000 departures, according to the Tunisian authorities.
Like Taheyya, dozens of other families are trying to repatriate at least 140 Tunisian children stuck in conflict zones, where their parents are suspected of joining jihadist groups.

FASTFACT

The Observatory of Rights and Freedoms of Tunis, which is in contact with the families, counts 104 children in Syria, almost all of them in camps. Three quarters were born there and are under the age of six.

The Observatory of Rights and Freedoms of Tunis, which is in contact with the families, counts 104 children in Syria, almost all of them in camps. Three quarters were born there and are under the age of six.
Another 36 are in Libya, either detained by militias or being looked after by the Red Crescent.
While public opinion at home is hostile toward the return of militants, President Kais Saied raised families’ hopes in January by bringing back six orphans from Libya and promising to “speed up the repatriation” of the others. But since then, there have been no further returns.
From a middle-class family in central Kairouan, Taheyya’s son was one of the first in his neighbourhood to leave for Syria.
A cook in the merchant navy, he survived a hostage-taking by Somali pirates and later joined groups fighting the regime in Syria.
He opened a restaurant in the city of Raqqa, once the de-facto capital of Daesh in Syria, and was killed in late 2018 while trying to flee, according to his family.
“He had asked me to take care of his children,” his younger brother said, adding that he himself had travelled to Turkey twice but had failed to obtain their return.
“We talk to them every two or three days, when the network allows, but we have gone for several months without news,” Taheyya said.
“I have never been able to hug them.”
Officials at the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said that “the will exists” for repatriations, pointing the finger at foreign authorities and the novel coronavirus pandemic that has slowed down discussions.
The Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria denied the Tunisian government had contacted them about repatriations.
AFP correspondents in Syria said they saw many Tunisians leaving the former Daesh bastion of Baghouz during the final battle of 2019.
People there were taken to the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp, now home to thousands of Daesh wives and their children.
No specific figures were available for the number of Tunisians currently at Al-Hol.


Lebanon information minister quits in first government resignation over blast

Updated 09 August 2020

Lebanon information minister quits in first government resignation over blast

  • Manal Abdel-Samad apologizes to the Lebanese public for failing them
  • Explosion killed more than 150 people and destroyed swathes of the capital

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s information minister Manal Abdel Samad on Sunday quit in the first government resignation since a deadly port blast killed more than 150 people and destroyed swathes of the capital.

“After the enormous Beirut catastrophe, I announce my resignation from government,” she said in a statement carried by local media, apologizing to the Lebanese public for failing them.

The head of Lebanon’s Maronite church meanwhile called on the entire government to step down over the August 4 explosion, a blast widely seen as shocking proof of the rot at the core of the state apparatus.

Lebanese protesters enraged by the blast vowed to rally again after a night of street clashes in which they stormed several ministries.

Maronite patriarch Beshara Rai joined the chorus of people pressing Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet to step down over a blast he said could be “described as a crime against humanity.”

“It is not enough for a lawmaker to resign here or a minister to resign there,” Rai said in a Sunday sermon.

“It is necessary, out of sensitivity to the feelings of the Lebanese and the immense responsibility required, for the entire government to resign, because it is incapable of moving the country forward.”

Rai echoed calls by Diab for early parliamentary polls — a long-standing demand of a protest movement that began in October, demanding the removal of a political class deemed inept and corrupt.

He also joined world leaders, international organizations and the angry Lebanese public by pressing for an international probe into an explosion authorities say was triggered by a fire in a port warehouse, where a huge shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate had languished for years.

President Michel Aoun on Friday rejected calls for an international investigation, which he said would “dilute the truth.”

At least six lawmakers have quit since the explosion.

Under increased pressure from the street and foreign partners exasperated by the leadership’s inability to enact reforms, Diab’s government is fraying at the edges.