Rehabilitation of innocent victims can be strongest weapon against extremism
A recent headline published by the New York Times sparked criticism for describing children born to Daesh terrorists as “time bombs.” After worldwide pressure, the newspaper changed the problematic headline from “Is a Child of Daesh Just a Child? Or a Time Bomb?” to “Thousands of Daesh Children suffer in camps as countries grapple with their fate.”
Many people described the initial headline as “grossly irresponsible” and “racist and Islamophobic,” and strongly denounced it for “dehumanizing black and brown children” and “using children — no matter who they are — as click bait.” I totally agree with these criticisms. The original headline was both damaging and disgusting.
The downfall of the terrorist organization has left the fate of hundreds of children in question. London think tank the International Center for the Study of Radicalization published a report, “From Daesh to Diaspora: Tracing the Women and Minors of Islamic State,” that researched the women and children connected to the terrorist organization. It found that the documented number of infants born inside Daesh to international parents was at least 730. These children are not going to go away. A comprehensive, tangible and realist policy by the international community is required to find a solution for the fate of these young people.
The question of what to do with the children of foreigners fighting with Daesh in Syria and Iraq is posing a dilemma for governments in their home countries, especially in Europe. Some Western governments have been less than keen to accept the children, on the grounds that there is a little public sympathy for the children of terrorists and strong public pressure against such moves.
Last year, Francois Molins, at the time the leading counterterrorism prosecutor in France, also described the children of Daesh members as “time bombs.” Human-rights groups have criticized this type of stance, and called for the return of the children of Daesh members to their parents’ home nations. “Countries… should ensure that all child nationals detained abroad solely because they are the sons and daughters of alleged or confirmed Daesh members are swiftly and safely brought home unless they fear ill-treatment upon return,” Human Rights Watch said.
The strongest permanent blow we can deliver to global extremism is to heal its victims and encourage them to stand up against the violence and terrorism.
A handful of countries have already adopted policies for the repatriation of such children, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Sudan and Turkey. Russia can be viewed as a pioneer in systematically bringing home the children of extremist fighters. Although the homecoming of such children, many of whom were born to Daesh militants, has been a subject of debate in the country, Russian authorities hope that placing them with their extended families will minimize risk of radicalization when they reach adulthood in the Caucasus, a region with a history of extremism.
This week, Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Fatih Yildiz said that his country is willing to welcome all citizens who are not guilty of a crime, especially children born to Daesh militants in Iraq, before Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. “We have agreed with the Iraqi side to alleviate the unjust suffering of the children,” the envoy said, adding that the proces will be coordinated by the Turkish Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services.
France has repatriated several young children who were in camps in northern Syria after they were orphaned or separated from their French parents. Kazakhstan evacuated 231 of its citizens, most of them children, from Syria after they traveled or were taken there to join Daesh. Yazidi survivor groups have welcomed a decision by community elders to allow children who were born as a result of the rape of their mothers by members of Daesh to return with their mothers to their homelands in Iraq.
In Syria and Iraq, foreign children of more than a dozen different nationalities are languishing in camps or jails. Repatriating these children is not an easy task and not without complications. But first and foremost, they are the victims of abuse by a ruthless terrorist regime. Countries need to ensure that national initiatives are developed or reinforced to support the mental health, psychological and medical needs of these youngsters.
To ease their integration into society, the first priority is that they receive psychosocial assistance to help them come to terms with the traumas they have gone through. With persistent scrutiny and support from the international community, these children can become assets to peace rather than threats. Human-rights groups warn that allowing these children to die in the wilderness will simply fuel the terrorist and extremist narrative.
I believe that the strongest permanent blow we can deliver to global extremism is to heal its victims and encourage them to stand up to violence and terrorism. By healing them so that they can enjoy a productive role in society, these young people will grow to become strong voices against terror.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz