Like other European nations, France has been debating how to handle suspected militants and their families who seek to return from combat zones in Iraq and Syria, as well as those in detention.
France has suffered a series of deadly militant attacks over the last three years and is contending with the threat of home-grown militancy as well as the risks posed by fighters slipping back into the country.
Government policy so far has been to refuse to take back fighters and their wives, but France has said it needed to determine the situation of minors.
“French authorities are now entering an active phase of evaluation on the possibility of repatriating minors,” a French official said.
About 60 women, including 40 mothers with around 150 minors, have been reported in Syria by families in France.
The large majority of those children are under the age of six.
After working with Kurdish authorities and the International Red Cross, Paris located a number of the children in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria.
The officials said that preparations are being made to repatriate the children on a case-by-case basis, including those born in Syria.
David Toube, director of policy at the London-based counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, said the French policy was “sensible”.
“It’s important for us to realise that we’re talking about children here,” he told The Independent. “As the Bible says multiple times, the sins of the father, or mother, should not be passed on to their children. These children are French citizens, it would be very improper to exclude them on the basis that their parents may have done terrible things.”
“The child’s welfare is paramount in this case,” Mr Toube added. “You can’t simply take children away from their parents and dump them in a state system.
“These children are likely to have been traumatised. They would have seen, and in some cases have been involved in, terrible things. It is vital they are not left unsupported when they do return.”
The children’s return would depend on whether the mothers agreed to be separated from their children.
“It is in the best interest of the children,” one of the officials said.
Paris is concerned that if the minors are left in Syria they could eventually also become militants.
The first children could be returned by the end of the year.
In December 2017, France repatriated three children belonging to a French woman who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for her allegiance to Isis.
She kept her youngest child with her in detention in Iraq.
The case was easier for France to work out, as Baghdad has a functioning legal system, unlike in Kurdish northern Syria, which sits outside the control of the Syrian government.
Figures for the number of French Islamist fighters in the Levant region have varied from between 500 and 700 over the years.
Authorities estimate there are around 100 in the rebel-held northeastern bastion of Idlib, and dozens in the last Isis pocket near the Iraqi border.
It comes as a senior US military commander called on the UK to take back two alleged members of Isis who are suspected of being involved in a series of beheadings.
El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, who are originally from London, are believed to be members of a four-man cell of Isis executioners dubbed “The Beatles” because of their British accents.
The pair, who have been stripped of their British citizenship, may face a federal trial in the US, after the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was “insufficient evidence” to try them in the UK.
Additional reporting by agencies
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