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Improving the situation of ISIS-related child detainees in Northeast Syria

In August 2022, Fight for Humanity completed a year-long project in partnership with Purity, Fight for Humanity’s local partner, and with the support of Medico International, to improve the detention conditions and advocate for the release of over 750 male adolescents in two detention centres in Northeast Syria. These children belong to families of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) living in camps. The children’s basic rights have been violated as local authorities laced them in detention as a preventative measure to maintain security in those camps.

Fight for Humanity and its partners started with immediate measures to improve their living conditions: the delivery of aid, such as clothes and blankets for the winter, along with the provision of mobility aid and recreational materials. In parallel, to improve the treatment they receive, another of Fight for Humanity’s local partners, Right Defence Initiative (RDI), trained the detention centre’s guards and administrative staff on international standards that regulate the detention of children. The project team also started to provide basic education with a curriculum in Mathematics, Arabic, English, Art, life skills and recreational activities such as music, painting, or sports. These activities have kept the children occupied, stimulating, and preparing them for a future reintegration.

However, their mental health has been severely affected by their life trajectory, so Fight for Humanity and its partner also initiated a programme to provide the children with psychosocial support. An individual assessment had been conducted in provision of a deeper and more customised support. The project team benefitted from the experience and coaching of another organisation - Heartland Alliance International (HAI)- that has conducted similar activities with detained children in Iraq. All these measures also aimed to avoid further radicalisation among the children and as Adnan Khalil, Purity’s Director, stressed, “the rehabilitation of detained children has a crucial role in the effectiveness of the reintegration into their societies”. 

Finally, the project led several advocacy initiatives to find a solution for the children outside of the detention centre, whether it is repatriation to their home country - as dozens of them are foreigners - or reintegration into local communities. Fight for Humanity notably organised a webinar in December 2021, “Detained Children from ISIS-Related Families: How to Best Protect their Rights in Northeast Syria”, on the need for reintegration and repatriation of these children, and the challenges that come along with it. 

In January 2022, a massive attack against one of the project’s targeting detention centres disrupted the project implementation and added to the children’s trauma. While this event was horrific, both the attack and Fight for Humanity’s project shed light on the inhumane situation of these children, leading more international organisations to act for them. With the support of Medico International and in collaboration with Purity, the project is now continuing with hope that durable and humane solutions can be found. 

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