The Center for Global Policy has called on European governments to urgently intervene on behalf of as many as 750 children of EU member states citizenship who are held in ISIL (ISIS) detention camps in Syria.
In a new report, the organisation said urgent intervention and support in the form of investment in diplomatic and financial resources, the development of rehabilitation services and provision of non-extremist religious education, as well as the creation of a pan-European leglislative body to determine the fate of these children, were urgently needed.
The report titled The Children of ISIS Detainees: Europe’s Dilemma was based on research that focused on two camps in northeast Syria, al-Hawl and al-Roj, where some 70,000 women and children are being detained. According to the report at least 12,000 of the detainees are foreign nationals.
“Immediate action by European governments will limit future extremism and terrorism and promote the health and wellbeing of these children,” Azeem Ibrahim, director of the Center for Global Policy and co-author of the report, said in a press release.
Ibrahim, who visited the camps in April, added: “The coronavirus pandemic has not diminished the urgent need to deal with these children. The struggle against ISIS ideology will continue, lockdown or no lockdown, rehabilitating these children is a key part of that.”
According to the report, more than 500 people, of which 371 were children, died at the camps in 2019.
The report highlighted that the camps, where former ISIL members are being detained and that are run by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a Kurdish-led group that helped defeat ISIL with the help of the US-led coalition – are in an extremely precarious situation.
“The group’s [ISIL] indoctrination of children and implementation of its austere reading of Shariah law is very much ongoing, raising concerns over both child welfare [indoctrination as abuse] and potential future security risks posed by leaving them in the camps.“
It added: “There are also very acute external threats to the integrity of the camps. For example, an assault by regime forces, Turkish-backed rebels or ISIS sleeper cells on SDF positions could see camp guards redeployed to battlefronts, leaving the camps unguarded.”
The report recommended the establishment of an international task force to aid governments in the repatriation of their citizens and the creation of rehabilitation centres for the children.
While the report recognised that public opinion in EU member states was strongly opposed to repatriating ISIL members and affiliates, it highlighted that leaving them in these camps “will not keep anyone safe”.
“It seems more than likely that at some point some, probably the majority, of these individuals will escape or be released by some confluence of circumstances, as the SDF will find themselves unable to sustain the camps in the face of the various pressures they are confronted by,” said the report.
“When they do escape, these people will not be any less radical than they were before,” it added.
Commenting in the press release, Myriam Francois, a senior fellow at the centre and co-author of the report said: “Ceding standard and religious education to ISIS groups has the potential to foment increasing extremist ideology.”
“Through the implementation of a variety of strategies outlined in this report, European nations can meet their mandates of supporting their nation’s youth while managing future terrorist or extremist episodes,” she added.