Wednesday

21st Apr 2021

Hundreds of European children remain stuck in Syria

  • Syria in 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)

Pro-Islamic State Europeans stuck in Syrian camps and prisons may create a "new hotbed of Islamist violence," says an EU internal document, as the plight of some 600 European children there remains dire.

The issue is set to be discussed behind closed doors among EU state delegations in Brussels on Tuesday (16 March).

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The confidential paper was drafted last week by the rotating EU presidency under Portugal and came amid a European Parliament resolution on Syria.

Some 50,000 people worldwide are thought to have heeded the call of the Islamic State to join its caliphate in Syria and Iraq between 2011 and 2016.

The recruitment drive also attracted women, many of them bringing along children, to the region. Others were born into the caliphate to European parents.

With the caliphate now demolished, many have been left behind to languish in squalid north-east Syrian camps and prisons where Islamic State ideology remains entrenched.

Over 64,000 people of mostly women and children from some 57 states are said to be stuck at the Al Hol and Roj camps in northeast Syria.

Of those in Al Hol nearly 230 women and 600 children are a mix EU and or UK nationality, notes the document.

"The camp, or at least parts of it, has been mentioned as a sort of Da'esh mini-caliphate and the longer these people continue living there, the more they will become radicalised," it states.

Another 150 European men are also found in prisons in Syria and Iraq.

Few have managed to return to Europe in 2020 - due, in part, to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

And European governments have largely resisted bringing any children back, citing the belief they should not be separated from their mothers.

"The situation in the camps and prisons in north-east Syria could pose a threat not only in the region but also to the EU," states the document.

For their part, MEPs in their resolution on Syria last week demanded EU states to "urgently repatriate the children" of EU nationalities.

Similar calls were also made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this year.

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