In the aftermath of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the world has a growing humanitarian concern in what is known as the children of ISIS.
How does a society cope in the aftermath of rule by a brutal group like ISIS? Areas of Iraq and Syria are being confronted with this question and frequently the answer is not kind. The most vulnerable individuals within the societies are being oppressed as a result. Today the women and children who were victimized under ISIS in Syria and Iraq are facing a new round of oppression at the hands of their countrymen who want nothing to do with these remaining remnants of the Islamic State.
In 2013-14 when ISIS made its advance across these territories the momentum and success which the terror group achieved in conquering large swaths of Iraq shocked the world. Scenes of the American trained Iraqi army fleeing ISIS and surrendering much of western and northern Iraq signaled the rise of a military power which none of the experts anticipated.
There was another part to this story. Behind the military battles and rapid sequence of ISIS, victories lay isolated Iraqi communities and villages in this region which had been largely abandoned or neglected by the Iraqi government for many years. The conquering ISIS forces, along with their brutality, brought a promise of security and stability to the people living in these towns. In many instances the people of the area faced a dire choice: resist and fight their new ISIS overlords, and probably die; or surrender and serve.
Die or Serve
Those who chose to fight were overcome and slaughtered. Those who chose to surrender and serve became part of the ISIS machine and administration in the region. Their wives and children now pay the price for that fateful decision.
An estimated 45,000 children were born under ISIS rule between 2014-17 while the terror group controlled nearly a third of Iraq. Their birth certificates were issued by ISIS administrators and are now deemed illegitimate in the eyes of the Iraqi government. Without birth certificates, these children cannot secure other important documentation that would make them eligible for an education, healthcare, and aid needed for survival. They are in effect excluded from Iraqi society and treated as if they do not exist.
These children may secure new and legitimately recognized Iraqi birth certificates through their fathers. This would open the door for citizenship, education, welfare, and an inheritance. Under Iraqi law, nearly every bureaucratic process now requires a security check performed on a woman’s male relatives. Many of these male relatives are no longer alive or their whereabouts are simply unknown.
According to families living within the refugee camps in the lands formerly dominated by ISIS, they are in a state of limbo. Their husbands and fathers were abducted by ISIS many years ago and they have not been seen since. Their ostracism by the Iraqi state is a slap in the face to the people already victimized by ISIS.
Victims or Sympathizers
The government of Iraq has little sympathy for the women and their children. They do not see refugees. They see ISIS sympathizers and do not trust them. Not only do they want to refuse aid to the widows and children born under ISIS, but they also do not want these refugees reintegrated to Iraqi society.
Instead, there is an increasingly popular idea of repatriating 30,000 of these refugees to a single refugee camp. In the government’s mind, this would protect the refugees from revenge attacks by other Iraqis and protect Iraq from would-be ISIS sympathizers. The idea itself is a dangerous one in the eyes of humanitarian organizations who see the collection of a group of refugees that the state sees as a threat to a single refugee camp for everyone’s security poses a great risk to the refugees.
The refugees themselves are growing frustrated. The camps which now hold them are places where revenge tactics are frequently exercised against them. Women and young girls suffer sexual abuse at the hands of camp guards. In several instances, the guards will marry some of the young girls then divorce them weeks or months later. The girls are dumped back into the camp and told, “You are a daughter of ISIS. I don’t want you anymore.”
Organizations like Amnesty International and the Norwegian Refugee Council warn that the camps are a human time bomb. The environment and treatment of these refugees is the fuel that produces extremist responses.
The Yazidi Exception
An exception to this standard is that presented by the Yazidis. The Yazidi were a minority group in Iraq prior to ISIS and faced frequent persecution from surrounding Sunni Muslims in the areas of northern Iraq.
ISIS took a specific interest in eliminating the Yazidi in 2014. This genocidal effort produced a massive flight and displacement of the Yazidi throughout the region. In areas where the Yazidi were conquered under ISIS rule the men were executed, the older women sold as slaves and the younger women and girls became spoils of war for the ISIS fighters. Children born to these Yazidi sex slaves of ISIS were taken from their mothers at birth and moved elsewhere in the Islamic State without the mother’s knowledge or consent.
The stains and trauma of ISIS on the Yazidi people are immense. Historically the Yazidi have been intolerant to their own people converting to other religions or sorting too much with other cultures. The potential for further hardship being dealt to the Yazidis who survived ISIS was great.
Recently the Yazidi Supreme Spiritual Council issued a decree welcoming the survivors and their children back into the Yazidi community. More than 200,000 Yazidis were displaced while fleeing ISIS. Many are still looking for their lost children and loved ones.