PARIS — In a desperate appeal to France’s government, some 10 Frenchwomen who joined the Islamic State and are now being held in detention camps in Syria began a hunger strike on Saturday, protesting the government’s refusal to bring them home for trial.
The women are among dozens of French mothers and their 200 or so children who have been detained by Kurdish forces for at least two years in squalid camps, and are in a state of legal limbo.
“We decided to stop feeding ourselves, regardless of the risks, until we meet the right people to get answers about our future,” one of the women said in a voice message obtained by The New York Times.
Two French lawyers representing the women confirmed the hunger strike in a statement released on Sunday evening.
Since at least 2019, when the Islamic State lost its final foothold in Syria, some 60,000 relatives of Islamic fighters, mostly women and children, have been stuck in fetid, disease-ridden detainment camps run by Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, with no clear future in sight.
France, along with other Western nations that also have citizens detained there, has resisted calls from families and rights groups to repatriate its people, and it has brought back only a handful of children.
Repatriating citizens who had left to wage jihad has long been a sensitive issue in France, a country that is still reeling from years of Islamist terrorist attacks. But the hunger strike, along with recent initiatives from French lawmakers and citizens, may add pressure on the government to take action in the face of a situation that is worsening by the day.
United Nations human rights experts last week urged 57 states, including France, to repatriate women and children whose “continued detention, on unclear grounds” in the camps “is a matter of grave concern and undermines the progression of accountability, truth and justice.”
France has long argued that adults who joined the Islamic State, including women, should be tried where they committed their crimes: in Syria and Iraq. Several men have already been tried and sentenced in Iraqi courts.
But trying women has so far proved impossible since their potential crimes are unclear and because the Kurdish administration that is detaining them is not internationally recognized. Kurdish forces who run the camps have called for the repatriation of all foreigners, saying they cannot keep them indefinitely in an unstable region.
The women holding the hunger strike say they want to be tried in France.
“We are there, waiting, in tents, in the cold, in the winter,” one hunger striker said in a voice message.
She said: “We want to pay our debt to society for the choice we made to come here. But it’s time for this nightmare to end and for us to go home.”
The New York Times obtained several voice messages from the women but is not publishing their names because they have received death threats from Islamic State supporters who oppose their desire to return to…