UN warns against stigmatising children born in ISIS territory

Children raised in the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) group's territory should not be treated as terrorists, the UN's Children Fund (UNICEF) warned Monday (March 11th).

The agency's Middle East director said the fate of children whose extremist families recently fled ISIS's last bastion in north-eastern Syria should not be ignored.

"The message that these children are not wanted is growing stronger and stronger," Geert Cappelaere said at a press conference in Beirut.

According to UNICEF, an estimated 3,000 foreign children are currently housed at the al-Hol camp which has taken in most of the massive influx of people fleeing the last ISIS redoubt in al-Baghouz village in recent weeks.

They originate from at least 43 different countries, many of which have been reluctant to tackle the issue of their possible repatriation.

There are even larger numbers of displaced Syrian and Iraqi children who are associated with ISIS and whose reintegration in society is a challenge that is getting scant attention.

"This is a problem that cannot be swept under the carpet," said Cappelaere, speaking at the launch of a CD of children's song coinciding with the eighth anniversary of the conflict in Syria.

"These are situations that are not necessarily unprecedented, look back at the Rwandan genocide in the mid-nineties," he added.

"We saw thousands of children there who were associated with people who had been committing atrocities. These children have for a big part been successfully reintegrated within the Rwandan society," he said.

Cappelaere said such efforts are needed in Syria and Iraq.

"There is a solution for these children. It requires political courage, political commitment. These children are children, they are not terrorists," he said.

Also on Monday, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi urged European governments to protect the children of their citizens who went to live under ISIS.

"These children are not jihadis," said Satyarthi, a lifetime Indian campaigner for child rights who won the Nobel Prize in 2014 along with Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai.

"If we are not able to give them proper care and proper protection and love and respect and recognition as human beings, then there are more chances that they could be misused and manipulated," he said.

"It is better to embrace them."

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