Thousands of children are being detained in camps and prisons across eastern Syria, Iraq and Libya. Some were captured fleeing ISIL territory with their mothers, others were orphaned and many were born to foreign parents. While several countries have taken action to repatriate minors who were either trained by or born to ISIL fighters, others say the children could pose a security risk if allowed to return.
Rights groups, though, say the children have experienced significant trauma and should not be used as political pawns or punished for circumstances beyond their control. Relief agencies have also raised concerns about the number of children in these camps who are malnourished or severely ill, noting that local healthcare facilities are ill-equipped to handle the number of patients who need urgent care.
Many of the children – particularly those with Yazidi heritage – face discrimination and cannot go back to the communities from which their mothers come.
The debate around whether to repatriate the so-called “children of the caliphate” was reignited earlier this year when Shamima Begum, a British teenager who had joined ISIL – also known as ISIS – petitioned the British government to return home. Begum was living in a refugee camp in Syria and hoped to receive medical care for her infant son, who would ultimately pass away just three weeks after he was born. Her case echoes that of Hoda Muthana, an American who lives in a Syrian refugee camp and wants to come home.
So, will these children continue to pay for the sins of their fathers, or is there a way to save them from a life of statelessness?
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