Children of foreign fighters should be brought home

Photo: EP Nathalie Loiseau

The estimates for the number of children of foreign fighters held in Syria in detention centres, camps or orphanages is close to 29,000, most of them under the age of 12, says UNICEF. About 20,000 children are from Iraq while more than 9,000 are from around 60 other countries, including from several EU countries.

In Iraq there are about 1,000 children of foreign fighters.

The situation of children of foreign fighters held in Syria and Iraq, and their possible return or repatriation to the EU, was the topic of the join debate held at the EP in Brussels by the Civil Liberties Committee and the subcommittees on Human Rights and Security and Defence. Human rights and counter-terrorism experts also presented their views on the issue.

During the debate, most of the lawmakers expressed their opinion that the children of foreign fighters are indeed victims and that the sooner they are brought back, the better. But there were voices that first priority should be the security of the European citizens.

Nathalie Loiseau (RE, FR) asked: “Can we leave them to languish in camps that are subjected to the most devastating influences, the most atrocious abuse and deprivation? We have a duty to act.”

Starting with the situation on the ground, Marie Dominique Parent, Human Rights Officer, Regional Office for Europe, UNHCR, talked about children stranded in two countries that are facing severe humanitarian and security challenges at a massive scale. Protection and security have remained the overarching humanitarian priorities which continue to limit the ability of people to safely and voluntarily return home, she stated.

Paul Van Tighelt, Director of OCAM, explained how crucial information exchange was, since it has really become difficult to have accurate information.

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