Children of jihadists adapt well once repatriated, Human Rights Watch says

The majority of children of jihadists adapt well once repatriated, socializing like young people their age, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday in a report entitled “My son is just a child like the others”.

The NGO interviewed relatives, foster parents, social workers and teachers of around a hundred children aged between two and 17, all of whom returned from the Iraqi-Syrian zone between 2019 and 2022, in the following seven countries: Germany, France, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden.

It shows that 89% of those questioned believe that the child is adapting “very well” or “fairly well”, despite the months spent under the yoke of the Islamic State (IS) organization or in “horror » IDP camps in northeast Syria. Only 4% of these people indicate that the child is in difficulty. In addition, 73% of respondents say that the child is doing “very well” or “fairly well” in class, despite poor access to education during their captivity.

Read also: Return of European jihadists: justice gets involved

variable support

Since 2019, more than 1,500 children have returned, according to HRW. Denmark, Russia or the United States among others have brought back most of their fellow citizens, unlike other countries, including Australia, France or the Netherlands. Support varies by country.

While in Uzbekistan the children stay with their mother, in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, for example, they are immediately separated, the mother being detained or charged for acts related to IS.

In Sweden, for example, children can be placed under observation for three months in a specialized youth facility before being placed with an extended family, a foster family or an institution.

In Germany, grandparents or other extended family members are usually able to immediately assume responsibility for the care of returning children.

Read also: Belgium repatriates families of jihadists held in Syria

Risk of additional trauma

“In many cases, the separation takes place without warning, without the possibility for the mother to explain to the child what was happening,” notes HRW. However, separation from the mother “adds trauma” and should be avoided, argues the NGO, in favor of “non-custodial alternatives”. The long delays before placement in the extended family can also “undermine the stability (of the child, editor’s note) in the long term”, underlines the NGO.

About 56,000 people are detained in al-Hol and Roj, two camps in Syria controlled by the Kurds and where violence is endemic and deprivation numerous. Wives and children of men suspected of belonging to IS are locked up there “arbitrarily”, according to HRW.

More than 18,000 are from Syria, about 28,000 from Iraq and more than 10,000 from around 60 other countries, according to HRW. According to the NGO, more than 60% are children, the vast majority of whom are under 18 and who suffer from “hypothermia, malnutrition and preventable diseases”. They face “increasing risks of recruitment, radicalization and trafficking”, HRW alert which urges the States of which they are nationals to repatriate them.

Read also: More than 100 million uprooted people in the world, worries the UN

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