Wrong Place at the Wrong Time: Europe unsure of how to reintegrate the offspring of the Islamic State

As ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate has collapsed in Iraq and Syria, many European States have to decide whether or not to let the children of European women who have joined the terrorist organization back into their country of origin.

Last December, three French-born children of suspected Islamic State members were flown back to Paris as the first act of repatriation of this kind. Similar kinds of appeals have been made by families from Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This does not mean that these countries have agreed on a procedure, however.

In Belgium, the Council of Ministers has decided to allow entry to children younger than 10 if DNA research confirms their Belgian heritage.  Similarly, in the Netherlands decisions are based on DNA tests to determine that a child has a Dutch parent.

Some have argued that letting former militant families back into their countries of origin would be a security risk that could make states increasingly vulnerable. While the caliphate might have collapsed, the ideology can last and has the potential to spread. According to researchers in Germany, radicalized children do not integrate well and “know nothing but war”.

However, many of these arguments seem only to emphasize the impact that the wrong kind of education has on children instead of trying to implement the right kind. This means tackling extremist ideology with education, new ideas, opinions, and a lot of family assistance. Many of these European states do not have an agenda that targets reasons people leave their home countries and join the caliphate in the first place.

While it might be easier to leave these children alone and not repatriate or educate them,  it is better to take control of the situation and understand the radicalization process in order to avoid these instances in the future. These children are often born into a terrorist organization, rather than having chosen to be in it.

It is understandable that authorities in European states are hesitant to invite members of terrorist organizations back into their countries, even if these “members” are small children. On the other hand, it is important to remember that if radicalization is possible, so is de-radicalization.

Josephine Neulen

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