SULAIMANI – As authorities in Iraq sort out the children that ISIS left behind — their orphans, the orphans of their victims, abandoned children of sex slaves, and children of foreign fighters — aid workers try to shield the youngest from their painful beginnings, reports Voice of America news.
Maya (not her real name) showed up in in an orphanage a few months ago. Both of her parents were Islamic State suicide bombers. Her four siblings were among their victims.
Plump, smiling and younger than two years old, Maya may never know anything of her past. “She was skin and bones when we got her,” says Sukaina Mohammed, director of the Department of Women and Children in the Nineveh province of Iraq, in the Mosul orphanage where Maya now lives.
Many Iraqi families of ISIS fighters live in refugee camps like this one in the Haj Ali camp in northern Iraq, Dec. 27, 2017. Roughly, 1,400 foreign women and children are being held separately with unknown futures, according to Human Rights Watch.
None of the small children born of or raised by ISIS are considered a threat to society, but officials fear they will be stigmatized nonetheless. Maya’s best chance for happiness, says Mohammed, is if she and any prospective adoptive parents never know anything more than that she is a victim of war.
“I don’t tell people which babies’ parents were ISIS militants,” Mohammed explains, “because if someone wants revenge on ISIS, they might hate the children.”
The less lucky ones
Older children of ISIS don’t have the luxury of forgetting, adds Dalal Tariq, an aid worker with the International Organization for Migration in the Haj Ali camp in northern Iraq.
Many of the residents here are the wives and children of ISIS fighters who are now dead or in jail. The children arrived at the camp terrified, Tariq says.
“They were afraid of the soldiers,” she explains. “ISIS militants told them the soldiers would beat them up.”
Other children watched their fathers die in battle and “they come here nearly destroyed,” she says.
The ISIS war is now officially over in Iraq, and families here are not formally accused of any crimes, but leaving the camp is not an option, according to Hoda, a mother of three children whose husband was an ISIS fighter before he was killed in an airstrike.
In her village, the children of ISIS are considered suspect, and local leaders ordered her not to return.
“If anyone from ISIS families goes back there, they will throw grenades at the house at night,” she explains while in her tent, surrounded by her children and other neighbors. “Even if my family comes here to visit me, they could be in danger.”
Before they were found
At the orphanage in Mosul, dozens of children wait for the chance to be adopted.
Orphans of Islamic State fighters and their victims live in this Mosul, Iraq, orphanage together, and neither the children nor their caretakers are told their individual origins.
“All the children we found were in a terrible state,” Mohammed says from her Mosul office. “I remember one time, we found a baby who was so thirsty; she died in the hospital after only a few days. She had no energy left to live.”
Some babies were rescued from the streets after being left in the sun as bait to draw Iraqi soldiers into the line of fire. Others were found in destroyed homes after their parents died fighting with ISIS.
There are the children of rescued sex slaves, whose families will not accept them. Many children were found alone in the rubble after airstrikes and battles annihilated much of Mosul. One boy survived alone under a collapsed house for seven days after the bombing.
“Some we don’t know about exactly,” Mohammed later says at the orphanage, pointing out a girl about six years old. “She speaks only Turkish. We think she was kidnapped by Turkish militants in 2014.”
Orphans of foreign ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria will not be able to avoid stigma if they stay, according to Mohammed, and some countries have moved to repatriate them.
In the Haj Ali camp in northern Iraq, wives of dead, captured or fled ISIS fighters say they were unable to affect their husbands’ choices in their conservative society.
Last month, three children were sent to live in foster care in France, while their mother and youngest sibling remain among the 1,400 foreign wives and children of ISIS fighters being held in Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch.
Officials from Germany, Russia, Chechnya and other countries have also requested the children of their nationals to be returned.