There is no humanity in intolerance. Wahhabi and Salafist fundamentalist variants have nurtured the formation, evolution and legitimization of Jihadism. Since September 11, piety moved from prayers and penance. “Akhlaq” or formation of charisma through the public manifestation of virtue, morality and manners was condensed into a macadam of beards and burkas. The “jihad-un-nafs” or war against primeval impulses of the Freudian “id” was traded for armed resistance or “kital”. Ignorance flourished in an age of abundance of knowledge and information. Darkness upon darkness. What they have now is Aleppo.
Al-Hawl is now an incubator for the Islamic State’s resurgence. The women of Al-Hawl call it Jabal Baghuz, named for the town on the Euphrates river where their husbands were finally defeated. Deep inside the sector of this incubator, reserved for foreign fighters, and beyond the camp’s overwhelmed guards, is where the Caliphate lives on. The four hundred guards with AK-47s and the 62,000 detainees know where power rests. General Kobani says “It’s a timebomb waiting to go off.” As fighters sit in Kurdish prisons, thousands of families wait for their fathers and husbands at Al-Hawl. More than 80% are women and children. Vladimir Voronkov is advising countries to repatriate the 27,000 children who remain stranded and abandoned in Syria. These sons and daughters of ISIS fanatics and are being preyed upon by ISIS enforcers.
Voronkov stated that the children remain the responsibility of their respective countries. Virginia Gamba, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, told the Security Council that children catalogued as being associated with armed groups including ISIS and al-Qaida “are the children who have been left adrift by conflict, like flotsam in the sea”. The executive director of the U.N. Counterterrorism Centre stressed that children “must be treated primarily as victims” and minors should not be detained or prosecuted.
In August 2014, a woman from Aruba was arrested in Belgium under suspicion of recruiting for ISIS. In mid-November 2015, three nationals from Syria were found travelling on forged Greek passports from Haiti. They were arrested in Saint Maarten. The websites of the Jamaican and Saint Vincent governments were hacked and replaced by ISIS images prompting them to tighten border control and invoke stricter procedures for the entry of foreign nationals. Saint Kitts immediately halted the acceptance of Syrian applications for its Citizenship by Investment Programme.
In the summer of 2016, ISIS published Issue No. 15 of its online magazine Dabiq. The editor ran an interview with an ISIS overseas combatant. “When I was around twenty years old, I would come to accept the religion of truth, Islam,” said Abu Sa’d at-Trinidadi. At-Trinidadi, as his nom de guerre suggests, was from Trinidad and Tobago, a Republic more readily known for calypso and Carnival, not a “caliphate.” It is no wonder why the state of emergency declared by France following the Paris attacks in November 2020 was extended into the French territories of the Caribbean, including Guadeloupe and Martinique. Legionnaires leaving for Syria and refugees rafting in flimsy watercraft from El Rincón, Güiria across the Gulf of Paria to Trinidad. Turmoil. Luis Ali Martinez, the 56-year-old owner of a boat left an illegal place, covertly at night, with the intention to evade maritime controls. The vessel capsized. Forty-one adults and two children drowned.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) establishes that children are rights holders in their own capacity and hence their rights cannot be undermined by the actions of their parents. It is appalling that children who are believed to be affiliated to ISIS/Daesh and who are citizens of foreign lands remain stranded in squalid camps and detention barracks with no access to clean water, medical services and education. They are exposed to risks of endemic violence, exploitation and sexual abuse and trafficking. In Port-au-Prince in 2018, CARICOM adopted a regional Counter-Terrorism Strategy. This framework must interlace itself with a Strategy for the Rights of the Child. These are complementary policy frameworks. Synergies and complementarity between these Strategies must be further reinforced, with a view to effectively integrate a child-rights perspective into counter-terrorism efforts.
With every dawn and delay, lives are lost or ruined. Authorities face challenges to repatriate these souls left adrift including polarised opinions. But children are not responsible for the actions of their parents. Nor do they bear responsibility for the circumstances in which they find themselves. Abandoning the children in zones characterised by war, conflict and their aftermath, leaves these children exposed to grave violations of their rights. Investing in their repatriation, recovery and (re-)integration is urgent.
We need to address the situation of child returnees (including with respect to their (re-)integration), and to coordinate action decided upon by a parliamentary round table. Member states of the UN have reaffirmed their obligation to commit themselves to create a world fit for children. A world in which sustainable human development is paramount. A world that takes into account the best interests of the child, and founded on principles of democracy, equality, non-discrimination, peace and social justice and the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights, including the right to development.