'They are somewhere in the desert': Belgian's grandchildren missing after Syria camp evacuated

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By Anelise Borges  & Elisa Caner
'They are somewhere in the desert': Belgian's grandchildren missing after Syria camp evacuated

Sayfoellah, Shahied, Muthanna and Mujahied – seen in the video above – are missing after the detention camp in which they were being held in north-east Syria was forcibly evacuated, their grandmother has told Euronews.

“All I know is that they are somewhere in the desert. Nine women and 26 children. All of European origin," said Fatiha Lakjaa, a grandmother of six Belgian children in Syria.

Her son Nohredin and daughter Bouchera – together with their partners, Fatiha’s son- and daughter-in-law – left for Syria in 2013.

A year later, both men died.

They left behind their widows and Fatiha’s six grandchildren, who I met in the camp of Ein Issa – just weeks before Turkey’s military incursion forced the dismantlement of at least one of the detention facilities holding thousands of so-called Islamic State families.

“The loss of a child is a scar that never goes away. It’s a scar that is deeply rooted," Fatiha told me, bursting into tears.

"I don’t want my daughter, my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren to die in the desert too. I cannot continue with this pain.”

Fatiha is not alone. Across Europe, hundreds of families lost their children to a world of radical ideas and brutal acts. Now they are fighting to be reunited with those they believe are the biggest victims of the horrors inflicted by the Islamist group – the children.

“The majority of these people are, in my view, victims. Of course, there’s a small core of dangerous people. But if we frame them well with the judicial tools available, they will not be a threat. We must be a strong society. We need to settle our own problems," said Sarah, the sister of a Belgian national detained in north-east Syria.

The Belgian government repatriated six unaccompanied children from Syria in June this year, but an estimated 69 remain. Government agencies say those who have returned are doing well, thanks to a mechanism already in place in the country to protect all children in danger.

"Services of the state are called to evaluate the capacity to educate of the parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts who would be able to welcome the child here. During the time the investigation is conducted, the children are placed with specialised child psychiatric services for a month. This time in the hospital allows [us] to conduct multiple evaluations," explained Madeleine Guyot, an advisor to Belgium's General Delegate for the Rights of the Child.

It is unclear when, or if, Fatiha and other grandmothers like her in Europe will be able to hold their grandchildren again. But the families say they will not give up, despite the excruciating effects of what seems like an endless wait.