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Children Among Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria

By Cat Cronin, Talking About Terrorism.

Children in Syria

1. In May 2019, the UN released a document pushing for the protection of children of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. The press release explained that these children are ‘doubly rejected’ as they are “stigmatized by their communities and shunned by their government.”

2. UNICEF estimates that there are currently almost 29,000 foreign children in Syria. 20,000 hail from Iraq, whereas the remaining 9,000 come from 60 other countries.

3. UNICEF also estimates that there are 1,000 children of foreign fighters in Iraq.

4. Recently, several states have begun to repatriate women and children in large numbers. This past April, Kosovo brought back 32 women and 74 children from Syria. In May, Uzbekistan repatriated 148 women and children from Syria who were linked to ISIS. That same month, Kazakhstan repatriated 156 children in a similar situation. In June, 12 French and 2 Dutch orphans of ISIS militants were brought back to France.

5. Yet other states have not volunteered to take back children of foreign fighters. There are an estimated 1,300 children of militants who traveled from Europe to Syria and Iraq who remain in those two countries. The UK, France, and Germany are among the countries who have been reluctant to repatriate their citizens, including women.

6. There are many debates of when (or if) European children of foreign fighters will return home because many Western countries remain resistant. Children of ISIS fighters continue to be seen as a threat, especially over the fear that many could have been “indoctrinated and sometimes pressed into service.”

7. The United States has been slowly working on repatriating children of foreign fighters. So far, it has repatriated a dozen children who are connected to ISIS. Similar to many other Western countries, the United States does not have policies dealing with the return of children and wives of foreign fighters, but President Trump has been vocal in his desire for all countries to accept those who want to return, albeit at the risk of prosecution.

8. As it stands now, most children of foreign ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq are residing in dire circumstances in internally displaced persons’ camps and detention centers.

9. Currently, over 90% of the population in al-Hol, a large refugee camp in Northeast Syria, are children and women (resulting in 7,000 and 3,000 people respectively). A whopping 65% are under the age of 12 and over 20,000 people in the camp are under the age of 5. It is estimated that hundreds of children in the al-Hol camp are orphans.

10. Several states are attempting to prosecute minors as adults. In Iraq, the criminal responsibility age is 9 years old, so foreign children have been held in centers without due process. Other states want to lower the age of criminal responsibility to charge young children with terrorism-related offenses or associations with ISIS.

1 Comment

Shubhra Sanyal
Shubhra Sanyal
Sep 16, 2019

What crime a child has committed to be a son or daughter of a foreign fighter or even that of a terrorist. He can be called a victim of circumstances. To victimize him further by labeling him a criminal is a violation of the rights of the child Human rights activists must take care of this issue.

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