© El Pais
Sources familiar with the repatriation process are reporting this. The two women and 13 children arrived at the Torrejon de Ardoz Military Airport in Madrid. Their families were not allowed near, and communication problems prevented a third Spanish woman from returning from northeastern Syria.
The women are Yolanda Martinez, 37, and Luna Fernandez, 34. According to the same sources, they traveled with 13 minors. Yolanda Martinez has four children, while Luna Fernandez is a mother of five. Her eldest son, aged 15, was separated from his mother and placed in a correctional institution. In addition, Martinez took care of four other orphans their grandparents met.
According to the family’s lawyer, the two women have been arrested and will make statements to the police on Tuesday before going to court. The children have already been placed in social services.
Perilous situation in the Syrian camps
The foreign ministry said in a statement that the national court would “proceed to legalize procedural status” for women. The operation took several months “because of the complexity and extreme danger of the Syrian camps.”
As announced in November, at the end of the year the government took final steps to repatriate the four women and 17 children and adolescents. The youngest of them, born in captivity, is only 3 years old. The rest of the minors have roots in Spain and have been held by Kurdish militias since the defeat of the Islamic State in its last stronghold in Baghouz in March 2019.
Four women site
A month later, a journalist from El País was able to locate the women in northeastern Syria. Lubna Melody, 29, and Bena Fares, 43, were in northern Syria with Martinez and Fernandez, who are Moroccans but born to a Spanish jihadist.
The women and children who were returned on Monday were being held in Al-Roj detention center in northeastern Syria, along the border with Turkey. This camp, which houses around 2,000 people linked to ISIS, is easily accessible, allowing Spanish authorities to expedite the repatriation process.
Lubna Melody, born in Ceuta, is with her seven-year-old son in the South Al-Hol camp near the Iraqi border. About 60,000 people live in Al-Hol camp, including foreigners, Syrians and Iraqis. According to the families’ attorney, it has not yet been possible to arrange for Melody’s repatriation due to communication issues.
These centers, where women and children are held indefinitely without judicial oversight, have become a new Guantanamo in the middle of the Syrian desert. Three women of Spanish nationality asked to return to Spain with minors in their care.
The fourth prisoner, Lubna Fares, the Moroccan widow of Spanish-Iranian jihadist Navid Sanati, escaped from Al-Hol camp with her three children in February 2020. Since then, her camp has remained unknown. The Sanati family stated in a recent conversation with El País that they did not know the whereabouts of the four.
Guardianship of the minors
The families of the returnees want to take custody of the minors. They have fought through the courts, politics and the media for more than three years to bring the children back. Social services will now have to assess the process.
Investigating links to a jihadist cell
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates the women’s repatriation with the Ministries of Interior, Defense, Social Rights, and Justice. Women will appear before the National Court. There is an ongoing investigation into their relationship with the jihadi cell, the Andalus Brigade, to which their husbands belong. They can be charged with residing in foreign territory controlled by a terrorist organization in order to cooperate with it. According to the Penal Code, this offense is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Al-Rubai defends that they traveled their husbands to the caliphate in 2014 and did not fight or participate in jihadist actions.
In the process, Spain joins its European neighbors (including Germany, Belgium, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Finland, and the Netherlands). (…) Spain is complying with its legal obligations, including those derived from international treaties,” said the ministry led by José Manuel Albares.
Spain initially refused to return home
The government has so far refused to repatriate its citizens. The situation has evolved in recent months. Spain was alone in its refusal, as the vast majority of EU countries have repatriated their citizens, at least in part. In July, an estimated 154 European women, including Spanish, were in camps in northeastern Syria.