According to the United Nations Security Council, recruitment or use of children in armed forces and armed groups is one of six grave violations against children that are perpetuated at times of war. The international agency also indicates that over only 15 years, from 2005 and 2020, it has been verified that the number of children recruited and used by parties to conflict exceeded 93,000 children. Yet, the actual number of children, it stresses, is believed to be much higher.
Among these children affected by war and extremism are about 40,000 children who are detained in detention camps in northern Syria. They are the children of ISIS foreign fighters. After the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019, most of the countries of origin either refused to receive them, or stipulated that the children should be separated from their mothers so that they become eligible for return. On the other hand, some other countries, such as Finland, decided to restore the children along with their mother, but they stressed that “the decision to repatriate their mothers will be handled on a case-by-case bases by authorized officials”.
The important thing here is that there is a change with regard to repatriation of the children. But here arises a very important question: How should ISIS child returnees be treated? In other words, what is the proper methodology for dealing with these children in a way that does not pose harm to their countries of origin and secure children’s interests at the same time?
Here we propose a five-step methodology for dealing with this delicate situation. We believe that applying this approach shall secure the interests of children and protect the countries receiving them from all related risks.
1- Children shall be granted official documents that prove they belong to the country.
Having legal documents is essential for anyone as it secures for one many related legal rights by consequence. Without such documents, one becomes stateless. According to the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, US Department of State, a stateless person is someone who, under national laws, does not enjoy citizenship – the legal bond between a government and an individual – in any country. Deprivation of citizenship puts one into difficulty in having the very basic rights such as education, employment healthcare, and freedom of movement. Therefore, it is indispensable for those returnee children to be granted the citizenships of their countries of origin.
2- Necessity of coordinating children’s transfer from detention camps to their countries of origin as fast as possible.
Detention camps are not, for sure, the proper place for raising children, who need due and special care and attention. Those children had already gone through very hard times under the control of ISIS. Therefore, it is a duty upon all of us, human beings, to deliver them from this critical situation, and not to leave them prey to the powers of radicalization and extremism. Different countries shall coordinate their efforts to restore them as fast as possible and end this phenomenon of detention camps, which is considered a disgrace in the face of the twenty first century's people.
3- Develop a well-defined plan for rehabilitating them with the aim of reintegrating them into society.
Rehabilitation is a prerequisite for these children so that they can be reintegrated once again into their communities and lead normal lives. The fact of the matter is that rehabilitation plans and programs may differ from one country to another, but they should consider some key elements. The plan or program shall be developed taking into account different levels of interaction: individual, family, educational, community, and societal. Success of rehabilitation is based on the support of and cooperation between all concerned parties.
4- Take all the necessary legal measures and procedures that guarantee that they will not be stigmatized.
Maintaining the mental health of the child returnees is a key condition for the success of the repatriation process. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all countries to take all necessary legal actions to prevent stigmatization of these children in order to guarantee them normal and happy life.
5- Not to put them under constant pressure and threat by official authorities.
Authorities shall make sure that child returnees are not put under constant pressure and threat, even if they are should be closely monitored to protect them from falling prey to extremist groups once again. Continuous pressure and threat makes one in a state of instability and insecurity, which prevent one from integrating with other people and failure of rehabilitation efforts at the end.