Rojava center seeks to rehabilitate ISIS-scarred foreign children

3/12/2023 2:14:33 PM
 Children of foreign Islamic State militants play football in a playground at the Orkesh rehabilitation center in the countryside of Qamishli in northeastern Syria on March 7, 2023. Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP
Children of foreign ISIS militants play football on a dirt field at a center in Rojava [northeastern Syria] that Kurdish authorities hope will help rehabilitate minors raised on Islamic State group ideology.

More than 50 boys aged 11-17, some with parents hailing from Britain, France, Germany or the United States, live at the heavily guarded Orkesh rehabilitation center near the city of Qamishli, close to the Turkish border.

Opened six months ago, it is the first facility seeking to rehabilitate foreign boys in the Kurdish administered northeast, where prisons and camps are packed with thousands of IS group relatives from more than 60 countries.

Another center opened its doors in 2017 to rehabilitate young former ISIS militants.

The success of the centers are crucial to "saving the region from the emergence of a new generation of extremists," said Khaled Remo, co-chair of the Kurdish administration's office of justice and reform affairs.

Some of the boys wearing tracksuits played table football in one of the rooms, while others kicked around a ball outside in the sun, talking to one another in broken Arabic.

Once the boys turn 18, they will need a new rehabilitation programm or for their home countries to take them back.

"We don't want the kids to stay permanently in these centers, but diplomatic efforts are slow, and many children need rehabilitation," Remo said.

Kurdish-led forces, supported by a US-led coalition, spearheaded the fight against IS in Syria, driving the group from its last redoubt in the country in 2019.

Tens of thousands of people, including relatives of suspected militants, have been detained ever since in the Kurdish-controlled Al-Hol and Roj camps, including around 10,000 foreigners in Al-Hol alone.

While girls are also in the camps, this rehabilitation center focuses on boys because they would be who IS remnants -- now in hideouts in the desert -- would recruit to fight if they could, Remo said.

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