The Children of ISIS Don’t Belong in Cages, Either

Children peer out from behind the bars into the light, scarred by intense trauma and uncertain of their future, terrified both of their prison and the outside world. The images and stories of these youngsters, robbed of their childhood by the extreme violence of life under the Islamic State, are harrowing. Many are unaccompanied, the large majority are under 12. They now find themselves abandoned in appalling conditions in rudimentary camps in Syria. Governments have to do better: This is not the way to treat children who are also victims of terrorism. Nor is it effective counterterrorism policy.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children with an alleged connection to the Islamic State are currently held in camps in northeastern Syria. Most are Iraqis and Syrians, but there are also thousands from some 70 other countries. The situation is tense, and fears have grown recently that remnants of the Islamic State will attack the camps in order to free the actual terrorists.

With notable exceptions, most governments have been slow or reluctant to take back their own nationals, citing security risks and the challenges they face identifying nationalities, gathering admissible evidence to prosecute, and developing reintegration programs. Governments clearly have legitimate security concerns: The fight with the Islamic State is not over. And some of those in the camps — men and women — are hardened fighters who have committed horrifying crimes and must be brought to justice.

But it is wrong to leave the countries and communities of this conflict-battered region to bear such a large burden of this fight. Governments in the rest of the world can demonstrate solidarity in countering terrorism by at least taking responsibility for their own nationals.


Photo: ©Ivor Prickett