© El País
Sources familiar with the repatriation process report this. The two women and 13 children arrived at Torrejón de Ardoz military airport in Madrid. Their families were not allowed to approach Communication problems have prevented the repatriation of a third Spanish woman from northeastern Syria.
The two women are Yolanda Martínez, 37, and Luna Fernández, 34. According to the same sources, they were traveling with 13 minors. Yolanda Martínez has four children, while Luna Fernández is the mother of five children. Her eldest, age 15, was separated from her mother and committed to a correctional institution. In addition, Martínez took care of four other orphans who were met by their grandparents.
According to the families’ lawyer, the two women have been arrested and will give a statement to the police on Tuesday before they go to court. The children have already been placed with the social authorities.
Risky situation in the Syrian camps
The State Department said in a statement that the national court “will continue to legalize the procedural situation” of the women. The operation took several months “due to the complexity and high-risk situation in the Syrian camps”.
As announced in November, the government took the final steps at the end of the year to repatriate the 4 women and 17 children and young people. The youngest was born in captivity is only 3 years old. The rest of the minors have roots in Spain and have been in the custody of Kurdish militias since the defeat of ISIS in their last stronghold of Baguz in March 2019.
Four women located
A month later, an El País journalist managed to locate the women in northeastern Syria. Lubna Miludi, 29, and Loubna Fares, 43, were in northern Syria with Martínez and Fernández, the latter of Moroccan nationality but with the children of a Spanish jihadist.
The women and children repatriated on Monday were held in the Al Roj prison camp in northeastern Syria along the border with Turkey. This camp, which houses around 2,000 people linked to ISIS, is more accessible, allowing the Spanish authorities to speed up the repatriation process.
Lubna Miludi, born in Ceuta, is with her seven-year-old son in a camp south of Al Hol, very close to the Iraqi border. About 60,000 people live in Al Hol, including foreigners, Syrians and Iraqis. According to the families’ lawyer, it has not yet been possible to arrange Miludi’s repatriation due to communication problems.
These centers, where women and children are detained indefinitely without judicial control, have become new Guantánamos in the middle of the Syrian desert. The three women with Spanish citizenship had asked to return to Spain with the minors in their care.
The fourth prisoner, Loubna Fares, a Moroccan widow of Spanish jihadist of Iranian descent Navid Sanati, escaped from the Al Hol camp with her three children in February 2020. Since then, her whereabouts have been unknown. Sanati’s family has stated in a recent conversation with El País that they do not know where the four are.
Guardianship of minors
The families of the returnees want to take over custody of the minors. They have been fighting them through the courts, politics and the media for over three years to get the children back. The social services must now assess the process.
Investigation of links to jihadist cell
The repatriation process of women is coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs together with the Ministries of the Interior, Defence, Social Rights and the Ministry of Justice. The women must appear before the High Court. There is an ongoing investigation into their ties to the jihadist cell Brigade Al Andalus, to which their men allegedly belong. They may be accused of taking up residence in a foreign territory controlled by a terrorist organization in order to cooperate with it. According to the Criminal Code, that crime carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
The four defend that they left for the caliphate of their husbands in 2014 and did not fight or participate in jihadist actions.
“With this operation, Spain joins its European neighbors (including Germany, Belgium, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands). (…) Spain complies with its legal obligations, including those derived from international treaties ,” said the ministry led by José Manuel Albares.
Spain initially refused repatriation
The government has so far refused to repatriate its citizens. The situation has developed in recent months. Spain was alone in its refusal, as the vast majority of EU countries have repatriated, at least partially, their citizens. In July, an estimated 154 European women, including Spanish women, were in camps in northeastern Syria.