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Exclusive: Euronews speaks to European children of IS being held in Syrian camps

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Exclusive: Euronews speaks to European children of IS being held in Syrian camps
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This week, Euronews features a series of exclusive reports on "Europe’s Children of ISIS": the victims and heirs of one of the most brutal terrorist organizations the world has ever seen.

The foreign children of suspected so-called Islamic State fighters are being held in Syrian and Iraqi camps while Western governments wrestle over what to do with them. For their families back home, the wait is also never-ending.

"When I came to Baghouz (eastern Syria), to the (Islamic) state, I was four years old," Mooath told Euronews's Anelise Borges.

Now nine, the little boy from the Russian republic of Dagestan, along with his siblings and mother, is being detained in the al-Hol camp — his father is dead.

He is one of an estimated 45,000 children currently stuck in camps in northeastern Syria, 8,000 of whom are foreigners.

Western governments have been slow to repatriate them, often focusing only on orphans and leaving those with at least one parent in the camps.

READ MORE: Exclusive: Europe's children of the so-called Islamic State

Ilham left the Netherlands at 19 to join IS — a decision she now regrets. She is currently being detained at the al-Hol camp with her two sons who could claim both Dutch and Belgian passports.

"When I see them, it’s so painful. It’s normal for them… They don’t know there is better than this," she told Euronews.

"There are so many children. These children will grow up and they will ask: Why are we still in Syria? Why didn't anyone help us in this situation," she said.

NGOs have denounced the conditions in the camp, which are administered by Kurdish authorities, saying children are dying from preventable diseases due to the horrific hygienic situation and a shortage of educational and medical assistance.

Sherin Murad Ismael, a child protection officer for UNICEF told Euronews that the children "are victims".

"It's not their fault that they were born within families with association to IS.

"They are at risk of abuse. They are at risk of exploitation, harassment, sexual exploitation, child labour. There are many risks," he also added.

READ MORE: What is Europe's approach to repatriating ISIS members?

The UN and human rights groups have called on Western counties to repatriate their nationals and to create child-protection programmes to ensure their full reintegration into society.

"Many detainees, particularly children, lack birth certificates or other documents to confirm their nationalities. And many detained children were born to parents from two different countries, raising the issue of which nationality they could, and should legally claim," Letta Tayler, from Human Rights Watch, wrote in June.

"Western European governments say the onus is on their citizens to reach a consulate and request repatriation, but detainees cannot leave the camps and prisons they are locked in to do so," she explained.

READ MORE: Lull in terror attacks may not last 'until the end of 2019': UN experts

Pascale Deschamps's daughter, a French national, left for Syria four years ago with her three children. They are now thought to be in a camp.

"I dreamt that I took them in my arms and when I woke up I savoured the feeling until I realised it was a dream," she told Euronews.

"It’s dramatic for a mother, for a grandmother. We survive while we wait to find them, to love them, to help them. We suffer. We are all victims of Daesh (IS). It’s a societal problem," she added.

In May, the French grandparents of two young children detained in a Syrian camp with their mother filed a lawsuit against France at the European Court of Human Rights.

They accused the country of violating the two children's rights to return to their home state and deliberately exposing them to inhumane and degrading conditions.

Two months prior, a group of grandparents, uncles and aunts banded together and filed a formal complaint against France at the UN.

The Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok suggested earlier this year that a special international tribunal be set up to prosecute suspected fighters and said he would submit the idea to the UN's General Assembly, which started on Tuesday in New York.

"We can't sacrifice these women and children. They must be judged with dignity in a fair trail," Pascale Deschamps concluded.

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