“While estimating the number of children who have travelled from Europe to DAESH territory is difficult, another unknown is the actual number of children born (or yet to be born) in Syria or Iraq to European parents.”[1] Some of children were teenagers and went to the conflict region by their own will and own means (deceived by the promise of martyrdom) while some others went even at earlier ages at the will of their parents. Some of these children have received combat training beginning from their very young ages. In this context; to tackle the ‘child returnees’ issue, it might be possible to group the children based on their ages, their motives/mentalities, whether they have been to the conflict zones or not, and whether they have participated in any terrorist activity afterwards in elsewhere.

As of today, a considerable number of children are yet to be known about their whereabouts. Some are left parentless in the long lasting civil wars. There are also those whose parents are in Europe and are not able to hear from their children. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to know the exact numbers and locations. On the other hand, will they be able to return home? It’s also not certain either, in what conditions they will return. “These children suffer, both due to the violence they have witnessed or even participated in, but also due to the fact that their normal social, moral, emotional and cognitive development is interrupted and corrupted by the experience of war.”[2] If/when returned, they will need to face even harder problems such as socialization/integration and/or exclusion and social isolation.

Within this context, one of the significant risks associated with the case of returning children is the fact that they might be reached out, communicated and networked by the terrorist/criminal organizations such as DAESH and used as remote cells or elements to perform ill minded actions or attacks. Therefore, it is extremely important to keep continuous contact with these children along with a process of social integration to monitor and manage their transition. Otherwise, they may be vulnerable to exploitation if they cannot break their mental links with extremist environment from where they come.

Due to the points stated above, it is needed to prepare an effective process to manage their returns. In this process; necessary measures and expectations from society must be clearly defined to ensure that the society will not exclude incoming children. It is indispensable to expand awareness among the society, educate the students on how to establish relationships with returnees in schools, and channel the parents in positive manners towards them. While the ultimate responsibility is lying upon formal institutions, including the EU, NGOs in particular could also make significant contributions in terms of raising awareness in the community.

For the process, roles/functions of the organizations and legal/private persons will need to be determined along with the infrastructure for the coordination and cooperation for their work. It is crucial to consult with various field experts, academics, national/international organizations, NGOs, universities, research centers, think tanks, national and international security and social services. The contribution that the children’s families in Europe can provide to the process must be taken into account as well. By the way, both formal institutions and NGOs in national/international environment have separate networks within themselves and they will need links or platforms to combine these networks to implement the process. Therefore, policy-makers and decision-makers, who deal with the issue, should take care of devising cohesion between relevant national and international levels’ networks.

The key to achieving children’s social reintegration with good management of the return process is to address the issue in a multidisciplinary way. The issue especially needs to be approached from the perspective of sociology, psychology, psychiatry, law and religious sciences. It would be a realistic approach to make the sociological part of the work over three main groups. These groups are; children, their families, and the community of the countries they will be returning to.

To understand the existing situations of returning children; some physical, mental, psychological and sociological analysis must be done. Trauma of two separate period must be analyzed. The first is the trauma that they were exposed to during the period they lived in the combat zones until they return, and the second is the trauma that they will probably be exposed to after they return to their home countries. Those who are assessed as needing should be provided with treatment at the relevant health institutions. “The situation of girls requires specific attention and dedicated approaches, taking into account that because their experience within a terrorist or violent extremist group may have been notably different from that of boys, the path to social reintegration for girls may also be different from the path for boys.”[3]

Also, it should never be forgotten that social media played a major role in the recruitment of children and/or adults. Necessary measures must be taken in the field of social media so that these children would not be re-captured by a DAESH-like ideology or by any other terrorist motives. “In order to neutralize the media operations of a potential or an existing terrorist organization, there is a need for strong counter social media activity and it is necessary to maintain this activity with determination. On-line training always must go on. It is necessary to be proactive and the reactions never should be delayed.  Whatever they are doing, they need to get a lot of response. For example, if they are campaigning, you should organize a counter-campaign which is stronger. You should make more effective counter-propaganda if they make propaganda.”[4] In summary, social media is required to be used more actively and effectively than radical/terrorist groups/organizations.

In addition to all the above-mentioned recommendations; it is necessary to increase the number of panels and seminars focusing on solving the problem with the involvement of stakeholders from a wide range of specialists and organizations.

Furthermore, the security dimension of the issue cannot be neglected in any way. Some of these children have been subjected to very serious brainwashing. It is not possible to re-format the brain and delete the traces of the past. That is why there will always be a risk of mental retreat to extremist ideology. However, if the problem can be solved socially and if the reintegration can be achieved, the situation could be supported by necessary security measures to minimize the associated risks.

As a result, policy-makers and decision-makers seeking a solution at national and international level, including the EU, need to establish and activate a process (as described above) to manage the returning of children. It is also recommended to consider the ‘child returnees’ issue in a multidisciplinary way, to carry out comprehensive analysis of the current situations of these children, to take measures in the field of social media, and to cover the security dimension of the issue.




[1] Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN) Centre of Exellence, 2016-Child Returnees From Conflict Zones, November 2016. 5 Accessed 14 March 2018. Available at: https://goo.gl/ikDgxc

[2] Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN) Centre of Exellence, 2016-Child Returnees From Conflict Zones, November 2016. 1 Accessed 14 March 2018. Available at: https://goo.gl/B4BRZA

[3] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2017. Handbook on Children Recruited and Exploited by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups: The Role of the Justice System. 108  Accessed 25 Feb 2018. Available at: https://goo.gl/KZEfM7

[4] Orak U. & Doğan K.  2017.  What Comes After ISIS: A Sociological Analysis of Radicalisation Into Violent Extremism, November 23, 2017. Accessed 25 Feb 2018. Available at: https://behorizon.org/what-comes-after-isis/