Young people from IS families: “I want to be free again”



Reportage

Status: 03.11.2021 07:32 a.m.

They moved to Syria as children because their parents wanted to join the “Islamic State”. After terror, suffering and loss, some of them are given the chance of a fresh start in the only therapy center in Northeast Syria.

By Daniel Hechler, ARD-Studio Cairo

Crocheting helps him forget the atrocities of war, at least for a few moments. But Ibrahim keeps catching up with his memories, even if the 19-year-old is now safe. “The worst was the planes, the bombs. That was the worst,” he says. In 2014 he moved from Germany to Syria with his mother and stepfather. Both wanted to live under the so-called Islamic State (IS). Ibrahim had no choice.

Daniel Hechler
ARD-Studio Kairo

In Raqqa, the twelve-year-old was brought up in the spirit of IS and was to be trained as a fighter. He experienced the war and the air strikes of the anti-IS coalition against the “Islamic State”.

It was a traumatic month. “I saw a lot of dead people, buildings destroyed,” he recalls. They finally fled to Baghuz, the last IS stronghold. The stepfather died there in 2019. Ibrahim and his mother fell into the hands of Kurdish fighters.

They were taken to Al-Hol camp in northeast Syria with tens of thousands of other women and children living under the terrorist militia. A nucleus of terror. The IS ideology lived on there. There was no care for children, no school. The hygiene was disastrous. Ibrahim just wanted to leave and finally got a chance in Tel Maarouf.

A rehabilitation center for children from IS families

Daniel Hechler, ARD Cairo, Mittagsmagazin, November 3rd, 2021

A chance for a few

In the tranquil village 25 kilometers east of the administrative capital Qamishli, the Kurdish self-government operates the only rehabilitation center for children from IS families. Around 100 young people between the ages of twelve and 18 live there. They come from 22 countries, are traumatized and possibly dangerous. Many grew up with the IS ideology and are considered violent.

Their care and therapy is an enormous task for the staff at the center. “We offer these young people a safe environment, we want to help them to become moderate and peaceful people, to get rid of extremist ideas and thoughts and to be able to get involved again in society”, explains the youth psychologist Khedija Afrin.

Ibrahim met Bilal here. He was also born in Germany. His family comes from Turkey. They initially moved back there before joining IS in the Syrian city of Hajin in 2016. His father also died in the war.

In the Al-Hol camp, Bilal was seen to be aggressive, allegedly attacking others, and still adhering to the IS ideology. Today the 16-year-old is peaceable and doesn’t want to hear anything more about it: “I came to Syria against my will. If it had been up to me, we would never have moved. I just want to go back to my family now.”

Back to a normal life

The center offers young people a lot of sport: soccer, volleyball, but also board games, therapy talks, art. In school lessons they learn the simplest basics under difficult conditions. Many of them do not speak Arabic and have never been to school.

Bilal hopes to have a better chance of education one day and with it a perspective in life: “When I come back, I would like to learn something at school and then see what the future holds for me.”

They don’t want their home countries back

The center’s financial resources are limited, as Khedija Afrin explains. There is a lack of qualified staff and targeted therapeutic approaches. “We are in a race against time. The young people should one day be the future of IS, they are growing up quickly now. We should have more opportunities to advance faster. We are running out of time,” she says.

The countries from which the young people come do not make any financial contribution. Nor are they prepared to take the minors back. That blocks any future for them. Ibrahim will soon be deported to a prison. He is of legal age and is not allowed to go to Germany. There is a lack of suitable facilities for adults like him.

Ibrahim wants nothing more than a life in freedom in his old homeland: “What I want is to be free. Life in Germany was much better than in Syria.” But that is not yet in sight for him. Just as little as for all the other young people here.

You can also see this report in the midday magazine – today from 1 p.m. in the first.


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