Damascus: At least 3,000 children born into Islamic State (IS) families are being housed in camps in Syria, Unicef said on Thursday, with many younger than six years old and living in “extremely dire conditions”.
The Unicef figure is sharply higher than earlier assessments, driven in part by the arrival in al-Hawl camp of as many as 30,000 people from the last IS enclave of Baghuz, the Guardian reported.
The number of newcomers has overwhelmed camp officials, who are struggling to keep accurate records and provide food and shelter.
At least 1,000 more children born to at least one parent aligned to the terror group are believed to be be held in Iraq.
Many are housed with mothers who have been handed death sentences by Iraqi courts after summary trials in which little, if any, evidence is heard.
The fate of children in both countries has become a vexing issue for many nations whose citizens travelled to join the IS and now wish to return.
Unicef’s regional director for the Middle East, Geert Cappelaere, said many of the children in Syria were unwanted in the camp, adding to their vulnerability.
“We estimate that close to 3,000 children of foreign nationality are living in extremely dire conditions,” he said.
“There are many more children of Syrian and Iraqi parents, unfortunately with the same IS label, many of them younger than six years old. These are children, not terrorists.”
The plight of children born to foreigners who travelled to join the IS was underscored last week by the death of the newborn son of British teenager Shamima Begum, who fled the UK four years ago as a 15-year-old.
Begum’s citizenship was revoked after she gave interviews disavowing her ties to the UK, while at the same time asking to be allowed to return home.
Meanwhile, Kurdish forces have claimed that all women and children have left Baghuz and are pressing ahead with a final assault.
An IS video released on Tuesday appeared to show numerous children in Baghuz, but it was unclear when and where it was filmed.