Post ISIS (4): Efforts to rehabilitate ISIS children in Syria’s Hasakah

HASAKAH, Syria (North Press) – Educators and nannies at Halat Center in Hasakah city, northeast Syria, for the rehabilitation and taking care of the children of the Islamic State Organization (ISIS) say after more than two months of rehabilitation and education, they are still facing difficulties to liberate children from the extremist ideology. 

Nannies face more difficulties in dealing with children aging from 10 to 12 years old, as they have been taught the ideology of ISIS for years. 

On October 2021, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) opened Halat Center for the care and rehabilitation of children of ISIS militants and detainees, in the city of Hasakah in northeast Syria. 

The center includes eight female trainers and nannies who have the skills and experience of dealing with children imbued with extremist ideas.

The center consists of five prefabricated rooms, some for sleeping and others for children’s toys, in addition to classrooms for education. 

The center was opened with the support of Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in cooperation with the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, to provide education and rehabilitation opportunities for the children of female prisoners who worked with ISIS and its sleeper cells. 

The center has 55 children from 2 to 12 years old from different foreign and Arab nationalities, except for Syrian and Iraqi. The children are present at the center for about eight hours a day, while they spend the night with their detained mothers.

The mothers of these children, most of whom are migrants, live in a women’s prison, supervised by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with the support of the Global Coalition, after they committed criminal acts, escape attempts, and killing attempts in Hawl camp, east of Hasakah. 

Extremist mothers  

Parwin al-Ali, an official at Halat Center, said children’s mothers instill radical and extremist ideology in their minds, as if they were ISIS fedayee (suicide bomber), which impedes rehabilitation of those children. 

“Our goal is to rehabilitate those children, to be able to integrate within the society,” al-Ali noted.

The mothers of these children committed crimes, murder attempts, and escape attempts from Hawl camp, and they are extremists, “It is not their fault to be jailed with their mothers,” al-Ali added.

Beside taking care of them, the children receive lessons in mathematics, Arabic, and English, in addition to music, drawing and sports activities. 

After the male children reach the age of twelve, they will be transferred to Hori center for the rehabilitation of ISIS children in the countryside of Qamishli, in case their mothers remain in prison, according to al-Ali.  

If the mother leaves prison and returns to Hawl camp, the child will return with her, despite the risks of staying there. 

According to unofficial statistics, more than 90 people, including women and children, Syrian IDPs and Iraqi refugees were killed during 2021. 

Al-Ali considered that it is not appropriate for males to remain in the center after they have exceeded the age of twelve, especially in the presence of women who have no connection with them, and it is also not ethical to place them in a private prison, so continuing their rehabilitation in Hori Center remains better.  

False accusation

Al-Ali said there are parties, which she did not name, oppose the projects they are carrying out and accuse the center of severing the ties of kinship between children and their mothers and push them away from their mothers. 

“All these are false accusations, as the children only stay in the center for eight hours per day.” 

The children stay at  the center from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon, after which they return to their mothers in prison. 

The Global Coalition Forces supervise the center and have almost daily visits, in addition to the permanent visits of international organizations. 

Khawla al-Khalaf, a nanny works in the psychological support section for children in Halat center, like other nannies, faces difficulty in dealing with young children who do not master Arabic, they communicate with them through signs and gestures.  

“We provide psychological support to children in addition to entertainment.”  

She added that she is trying by using different means to deliver information to children, “We educate them and play with them, we use different methods with them, we teach them via games.”   

“Here, the children play freely, there is more child-friendly spaces, we educate them and play with them, when they come here and leave their mothers, they feel comfortable,” al-Khalaf concluded.

Reporting by Jindar Abdulaqader