The Netherlands must "actively" help to repatriate the children of women who joined the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in Syria, but the mothers themselves need not be taken back, a Dutch court ruled Monday (November 11th).
The ruling, by a judge at The Hague's district court, comes after lawyers representing 23 extremist women launched a lawsuit last week demanding the Netherlands repatriate them, along with their 56 children.
The women and children are being held in detention camps in northern Syria.
The Dutch state "must actively commit itself to repatriate the children", judge Hans Vetter said in his ruling.
At the same time, he added, "the state cannot be forced to do something that is impossible to do".
"The state has to take measures, as far as possible, to protect these Dutch children, even if these children find themselves in another country", he said.
The government should use all options available, including seeking the help of the US, the judge added.
Children in camps such as al-Hol in north-eastern Syria's al-Hasakeh province are at risk of being killed by shelling of the camps, or being subjected to sexual abuse, the judge said.
They are already suffering from the lack of sanitation, medical care and adequate food, the judge said, pointing out that most of them are under the age of six.
But they "are the victims of their parents' actions", he said, and therefore the Dutch government did not have a responsibility to return their mothers.
"These women knew that the organisation they joined was guilty of atrocious and serious crimes," the court said in a statement.
There are 15 Dutch men, 35 women and 90 children being held in Kurdish-run camps in Syria.
Call for international co-operation
Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for an international accord on the fate of foreign extremists being held in the Middle East, saying it was not up to Syria and Iraq "to solve the problem for everyone".
"We need international co-operation to solve the problem," Guterres told France's RTL radio.
"We cannot just ask Iraq and Syria to solve the problem for everyone. There must be real international solidarity," he said.