In Iraq, minority children haunted by ghosts of Daesh captivity

Many camps are hosting hundreds of thousands of minority Iraqis displaced by Daesh. (AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

In Iraq, minority children haunted by ghosts of Daesh captivity

  • Dozens of Yazidi and Turkmen children were rescued in recent months as Daesh’s ‘caliphate’ collapsed in Syria
  • Displaced families rely on aid groups for food and medical care

KHANKE DISPLACEMENT CAMP, Iraq: Brainwashed and broken, the Daesh group’s youngest victims are struggling to recover from years of jihadist captivity as they return to their own traumatized minority communities in Iraq.
Dozens of Yazidi and Turkmen children were rescued in recent months as Daesh’s “caliphate,” notorious for its use of child soldiers and “sex slaves,” collapsed in Syria.
Many have been reunited with their families, but their mental recovery has been slowed by prolonged displacement, a lack of resources, and a milieu accustomed to fearing, not forgiving, Daesh members.
Lama, a 10-year-old Yazidi girl, has repeatedly threatened to stab herself or jump from a tall building in the few months since she returned to Iraq.
“I fear she’ll never be like other Yazidi children,” said her mother Nisrin, 34.
All names in the family have been changed to protect their identities.
Lama has spent half her lifetime held by Daesh, who forced her to convert to Islam and speak Arabic instead of her native Kurdish.
During AFP’s visit to her tent in the Khanke displacement camp in northwestern Iraq, Lama appeared engrossed in a mobile shooting game with her cousins Fadi and Karam, freed from Daesh around the same time.
Like the boys, Lama dressed in black and kept her hair short. The trio spoke Arabic to one another, switching to Kurdish when addressing her mother.
“They’re still brainwashed. When they’re bored, they start talking about how they wish they were back with Daesh (IS),” said Nisrin, saying no psychologist had visited them.
Virtually every generation coming of age in Iraq has been seared by conflict, presenting an “unprecedented” challenge, said Laila Ali of the UN children’s agency.
UNICEF does not know exactly how many children Daesh recruited, how many returned or where they live.
It estimates that 1,324 children in total were abducted by armed actors in Iraq between January 2014 and December 2017, when Baghdad declared Daesh defeated, but expects the real number is higher.
Of those freed over recent years, dozens live in orphanages or shelters in Baghdad, the former Daesh stronghold Mosul, and the Yazidi regions of Sheikhan and Sinjar.
Others accused of Daesh affiliation are in detention, with some access to psychosocial support in the form of religious re-education.
But the vast majority are growing up untracked and untreated in Iraq’s camps, which host some 800,000 children.
“There are no child psychologists in Dohuk,” said Nagham Hasan, a Yazidi gynecologist who has become an informal therapist for survivors amid the lack of resources.
The rolling hills of Dohuk are dotted with camps hosting hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced by Daesh, particularly from the Yazidi heartland of Sinjar further south.
Displaced families rely on aid groups for food and medical care, and there are even schools in the camps for children. But targeted psychological support for minors is hard to come by.
Hasan said a dozen groups were implementing generic psychosocial programs in camps with few results.
Yazidi cleric Baba Shawish demanded international agencies ramp up services.
“These organizations claim to provide mental support, but do you really think someone who spent five years under Daesh will be cured in five minutes?” he said.
“They need days and months to be rehabilitated.”
Forced recruits will need tailored treatments based on age, said Mia Bloom, a US-based academic studying child soldiers.
Abducted infants may be more easily rehabilitated as they have fewer memories of life under Daesh, while those taken as teenagers “have pre-conflict memories and can go back to their happy childhoods,” she told AFP.
But those recruited during formative years, like Lama and Fadi, were taught to despise minorities and may lack any positive recollections of their hometowns.
“They need to have their religious identities recharged,” said Bloom.
That will require some heavy lifting from the communities themselves, still terrorized by Daesh and often treating rescued children as jihadists-in-wait.
To counter that assumption, UNICEF hosts workshops with religious and tribal leaders to reiterate that the children are, first and foremost, victims of Daesh.
“One of the biggest challenges in rehabilitation and reintegration of children with perceived affiliations is not so much the children’s experiences, but the negative perception from the adults around them,” said Ali.
Five years after Daesh’s rampage across a third of the country, minorities are mostly facing the demons haunting their young ones alone.
Nisrin, herself held by Daesh for two years, said she was self-medicating to cope with her anxiety.
“We’re in this tent together day and night,” she said.
“If they were taken out for a few hours per day, I could rest and they could learn something.”


British MPs call for UK to recognize Palestinian state

Updated 46 min 57 sec ago

British MPs call for UK to recognize Palestinian state

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles
  • The signatories said the move was long overdue

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfil Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 
The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 
During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 
Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 
The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.
“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.
Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.
“Recognition doesn’t contradict peace-making and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”
Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”
He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”
A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.
Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”
The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.
The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.
Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.
“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move toward a just and lasting peace,” he said.
Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.
In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”
In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “non-member observer state.”
Zomlot said that the UK has a historically important role in the Palestinian issue, dating back to the British mandate of Palestine (1920-1948, the Balfour Declaration — a public statement issued by the British government in 1917 that expressed support to the formation of “a national home for the Jewish people” — and subsequently the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) and the military occupation of that 1967 borders.
“With the current quest for the UK to be a global player and post-Brexit, we believe that the UK could be a very important factor in achieving Middle East peace,” he added.