TUNIS – Nearly 50 relatives of Tunisian children trapped in conflict zones, the majority orphans of parents who joined the Islamic State terror group, demanded their return on Monday.
Families protested in front of the foreign ministry in Tunis to demand the return of these minors and denounce a policy of inaction from various governments during the last decade.
Mohamed Iqbel Ben Rejeb, president of the Rescue Association of Tunisians Trapped Abroad (RATTA), said: “The state must save these children, whether for a humanitarian or security issue, if not what will be their fate?
“I am sorry to say but they will become future terrorists, worse than their parents.”
There are 37 children in Libya, many accompanied by their mothers, and another 150 in Syria, as well as families stuck in Turkey who do not have identity documents and fear returning to their country for fear of the judicial consequences, according to RATTA.
Only nine children have been repatriated from neighboring Libya since September 2016, Ben Rejeb lamented.
The country has been gripped by a civil war since 2011 between forces loyal to former leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and internationally-backed troops seeking to oust his government.
Ben Rejeb said there is a diplomatic standoff because Tunisia only wants to bring back minors but the Libyan government wants it to repatriate all its citizens.
He added that he is optimistic about a change in policy sponsored by Tunisian President Kais Saied, which in January allowed the repatriation of six children from the Misrata District in northwestern Libya.
Boubakar Marzoughi is campaigning his six grandchildren to be brought to Tunisia after their parents were killed in Syria and Libya.
“Children are neutral, they do not even know what has happened,” he said.
“How many governments have passed through here since the revolution? They talk to us about democracy but they do nothing for it.”
He added: “Bring them to me and I’ll take care of them. What will become of them without us?
“If they give us authorization, we’ll go look for them ourselves, it doesn’t cost them anything.
“The Red Crescent wants to repatriate them, all they need is a signature from the authorities.”
Bournia Mazlouf, who lives in the coastal city of Marsa, said children are unfairly paying for their parents’ actions.
Her son was killed in Syria, leaving her three grandchildren with their mother in a refugee camp run by Kurdish militias on the Turkish-Syrian border.
“One of them called me before the phone was confiscated and told me: grandma, I want to go back to Tunisia, we are hungry. We cannot do anything from here,” she said.
“If the women have committed crimes, they can be tried but save our angels, they have done nothing,” she added tearfully.