Foreign Fighter Children by Soren Klaverkamp


The Danish Institute for International Studies recently hosted an event that focused on the children of foreign fighters who fought for the Islamic State (IS). At stake is the future of at least 7,000 children under 12. This means that some of these children were brought to IS and some were born there. There are at least 30 Danish children in camps.

Many states have citizens who traveled to support IS and may of those states are seeking ways to revoke the citizenship of their nationals, prevent their return, and deny citizenship to their children. What is going on here? Do we not live in societies where we believe in rehabilitation or, if a crime is heinous enough, life sentences?

The dialogue around this topic centers on the violence these children have been exposed to and the beliefs of their parents. Analysts and politicians worry that allowing the return of these children and their parents pose a security risk. “… they do not belong in Denmark” say political leaders.

To these children, I would like to say, welcome home. To those who question their humanity I say, who are you? The children currently live in camps where they have little to no access to education, organized activities, or a sense of a future. Those who previously lived abroad are having their earliest memories overwritten by a sense that the world does not want them. Those which were born into the Islamic State are given no frame of reference to judge against. For both, the lessons of the Islamic State, that they exist to fight against a world that does not want them, are proved true on a daily basis.

It does not have to be this way. DIIS researcher Maja Touzari Greenwood has interviewed Danish foreign fighters who traveled to Syria to fight and have now returned. Among her subjects, she identified a need for a meaningful life that drew them to IS. They thought that through their involvement with IS they could achieve “moral transformation and absolution”. The children currently being left to waste away in camps such as Al-Hawl and al-Roj are being left in situations far worse than those Danish environments that produced individuals who viewed their surroundings as so bereft of value or future that they left to join IS.

Thus far, Germany and Belgium have taken the lead in this matter and have repatriated a few orphaned children. Denmark has repatriated one 13-year-old who was shot in the leg after their mother granted consent but is attempting to prevent the return of adults. And, despite the recent change in government, there does not seem to be an effort to renegotiate this year’s earlier deal

If the world does not want another Islamic State or Boko Haram it should not keep children in these disastrous conditions as possible recruits are literally toddlers and school-age children who are only just beginning to develop a moral compass. As the Danish Social Democrats say, “we need to help more”.

1 thought on “Foreign Fighter Children by Soren Klaverkamp”

  1. Dear Soren
    Excellent article, timely and will argued.
    Apart from that, we need to revisit and reflect on the murky definition of “foreign fighters”. In other words, if they are foreign in Syria then they must belong somewhere.
    Furthermore, the kids who were born under ISIS did not choose their birth place, just like all other kids.
    The west should dare to go back all the way to disastrous weapons of mass deception and greed that Bush Blair deployed to invade Iraq and thereby pave the way for the creation and expansion of ISIS.

    Now Trump and co are repeating the same fatale sin. Trump’s sudden betrayal of the Kurds and thereby giving green light to Erdogan’s aggression may well breed something worse than ISIS.

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