BROKEN PROMISES: FORGOTTEN CHILDREN OF THE ISLAMIC STATE

By Vincent Lyn

Sold for $60: Yazidi children suffer under the cruel and punishing life as ISIS slaves

Since April, 2016, thousands of Iraqi and Syrian civilians, displaced by a decade of war, have been living in refugee camps in northeastern Syria. In the largest camp, Al Hawl, 90% of the 65 000 residents are women and children, two thirds are minors, and the vast majority are younger than 8 years old. A separate annex guarded by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces houses 10,000 residents, the families of third-country nationals with links to the Islamic State.

Conditions in Al Hawl are dire, particularly in the annex, which receives less funding than the main camp due to international reluctance to provide aid to families of terrorists. The annex has inadequate shelter, poor sanitation, insufficient food, limited health care, no education provision, no freedom of movement, and the constant threat of extreme violence. Almost all the children have anxiety, unaddressed trauma, emotional trauma, or developmental delay. All have been exposed to a life of violence, extremism, and exploitation.

Collective international action is needed immediately to protect them. Such action is unlikely for the children of Islamic State fighters. Only a minority are documented, and many are orphans. Few countries are willing to accept responsibility for these children, although some states, such as Kosovo and Kazakhstan, have shown admirable leadership in repatriating a significant number (mostly orphans). Some states have brought home a small number of children, but the process is slow because many countries, particularly in Europe, fear political opposition and threats to national security. The U.K has even revoked the citizenship of some women, rendering their children effectively stateless and entirely helpless.

Such decisions defy the U.N Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which declares that all children have the right to life, health, and an education. The best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in all decisions and actions, and responsibility for a child lies with the home state. Decisions about a child’s wellbeing and future should not be based on a parent’s criminality; these children are victims. Abandoning children to languish in these dire camps violates a state’s commitment to the UNCRC. We should be looking for ways to help these children to begin to rebuild their lives.

To date, UNICEF has helped repatriate nearly 300 children of Islamic State fighters, but thousands remain in camps without a future. Co-ordinated international leadership and investment from the U.N and the World Bank is needed to protect these children against statelessness and to clarify the legal, policy, and operational principles countries must follow to bring their children home. But it is still unclear how best to reintegrate, de-radicalize, and rehabilitate repatriated children. Kazakhstan has implemented an impressive reintegration program that offers multidisciplinary support from psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, social workers, teachers, and lawyers. This may be a useful model.

https://vincentlyn.medium.com/kazakhstans-repatriation-of-its-citizens-from-isis-f19aa58125fe

The child health community must advocate for these children’s rights. They require physical medical care to treat their chronic malnutrition, infectious diseases, and injuries, and mental health services to treat their trauma, psychological illness, and delayed cognitive and emotional development. The wealth of expertise from decades of work with children affected by conflict or trafficking and victims of exploitation and abuse should be drawn upon now.

No home to go to ISIS child slaves are left with nothing

The absence of accountability for these vulnerable children is shameful. The lack of effective international leadership and central guidance will have catastrophic consequences. We call upon our expert and influential colleagues working in humanitarian care, children’s rights, trauma-informed care, and global child health to unite to identify how best to provide a future for these most forgotten children, these innocent victims of violence.

Early in the Syrian crisis, under the banner of “No Lost Generation”, the international community rallied together for the young people of Syria and the region. These efforts culminated in 2016, when the leaders of Germany, Britain, Norway and Kuwait held what was thought to be a groundbreaking conference, promising to provide education for all Syrian children by the end of the 2016–17 school year. Sadly, 2021 marks the fifth year of a failure by world leaders to honor their promise to protect and educate the most marginalized and vulnerable victims of the Syrian conflict.

Since the early months of 2020, innocent civilians, especially children, have faced untold hardship and suffering. An Idlib offensive by Syrian government forces led to the largest refugee exodus since the start of the war, with 1.5 million people displaced. Bombings of civilian targets, including schools, by government forces have served as a chilling reminder, the empty promises to protect and educate Syrian children.

Today, more than 800,000 refugee children are still out of school and now face a crisis within a crisis amidst the devastating impacts of COVID-19 to both their health and education. Although, there was substantial progress between 2013–2016 by the five main host countries of Syrian refugees, recent reports are showing that progress is now moving in reverse; the numbers of children out of education are rising rather than declining, and funding commitments are falling far short of what is needed.

Inside Syria today, there are more than 6.5 million displaced people. And in the surrounding area, there are more than 2.5 million are school-aged children and youth. The current situation stands in stark contrast to pre-crisis Syria, a country with near universal education. Today, at the age of 15 years, a child born five years into the conflict has a 4 in 10 chance of being out of school in neighboring Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon. Once a child is out of school for more than a year, the chance of returning is cut in half. Some countries that have risen to the challenge. For example, the number of refugees enrolled in Lebanese public schools rival the number of locals and in Turkey, nearly 750,000 had access to school in 2019.

The benefits of investing in education as well as the consequences if governments fail to do so seem obvious. So why then does the international community continue to fail in its responsibility to provide even basic access to education for the most vulnerable?

It’s not a money issue. The average cost of education for a refugee in a neighboring middle-income country is only around $500 annually, significantly less than in a high-income country in Europe or North America.

We often hear about the issue of “donor fatigue” as international community loses interest. But refugees are the ones who are truly fatigued from displacement and their host communities are equally fatigued and in need of resources.

An investment in refugee education is an investment in hope, potential, peace and security. Providing young people who have had to overcome every possible obstacle at an early age with the means to develop their skills and talents to become contributing members of society and the economy can only be a net positive.

Faces of children having endured horrendous suffering have been forgotten by the world

The child health community must advocate for these children’s rights. They require physical medical care to treat their chronic malnutrition, infectious diseases, and injuries, and mental health services to treat their trauma, psychological illness, and delayed cognitive and emotional development. The wealth of expertise from decades of work with children affected by conflict or trafficking and victims of exploitation and abuse should be drawn upon now.

The absence of accountability for these vulnerable children is shameful. The lack of effective international leadership and central guidance will have catastrophic consequences. Experts in the field, influential colleagues working in humanitarian care, children’s rights, trauma-informed care, and global child health to unite to identify how best to provide a future for these most forgotten children, these innocent victims of violence.

Vincent Lyn

CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations

Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts

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Vincent Lyn

Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)