The Children of ISIS: Locked in Political Limbo


As many as 750 children of European Union citizens are being held in ISIS detention camps in Syria.

An urgent new report, from the Center for Global Policy, titled The Children of ISIS Detainees: Europe’s Dilemma, highlights the status of European children of ISIS fighters detained in these camps in Northern and Eastern Syria, with focus on Al-Howl and Al Roj, and suggests immediate recommendations to provide support to those children currently locked in political limbo.

These interventions include the investment of diplomatic and financial resources, the development of rehabilitative services, the provision of non-extremist religious education, and the creating of a pan-European investigative body to determine the best outcomes for these children.

ISIS’ struggle to create an Islamic state in Syria and Iraq attracted volunteers from many nations. The children of these volunteers, many of whom were born in Syria, now form a unique dilemma for European nations. As the children of citizens, and thus European citizens themselves, these children, many of whom are orphans, ultimately fall under the responsibility of various European governments.

This report assesses the responsibilities of these governments, presents options for support of this population, and assesses risks of governmental inaction.

“Immediate action by European governments will limit future extremism and terrorism and promote the health and wellbeing of these children,” said report co-author Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, following a visit to the camps in April this year.

He added “The coronavirus pandemic has not diminished the urgent need to deal with these children. The struggle against ISIS ideology will continue, lockdown or no lockdown, rehabilitating these children is a key part of that”.

It’s estimated that some 70,000 women and children are being detained in these camps. Of that number, at least 12,000 are foreign nationals.

Two thirds of the children being held there are under the age of 12, with the majority under five-years-old, according to the report. More than 500 people died in the camps in 2019 and researchers found that 371 of them were children.

International aid groups have suspended work at the camps, citing staff safety.
The report proposes an international task force to aid governments with the repatriation process, together with youth rehabilitation centers for the children in limbo.

Report co-author Dr. Myriam Francois added: “Ceding standard and religious education to ISIS groups has the potential to foment increasing extremist ideology. Through the implementation of a variety of strategies outlined in this report, European nations can meet their mandates of supporting their nation’s youth while managing future terrorist or extremist episodes.”

This report is co-authored by Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, Director, Center for Global Policy, and Dr. Myriam Francois, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Policy.

Notes to editors: For interview requests, please contact: The full report is available:

Contacts: Dr Azeem Ibrahim – Dr Myriam Francois –