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45,000 children may soon become stateless in post-ISIS Iraq, warns rights group

Hana, a mother of seven children, fled Hawija in 2017 as the Iraqi government retook the city; some of her children have no identity documents ( NRC )
At least 45,000 children in Iraq born into the so-called ISIS may soon become stateless, in what right groups are calling a “human timebomb”.

Unless they are formally recognized, tens of thousands of minors – one in every five living in Iraqi camps – are barred from medical care, attending school or receiving food rations warned the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in a new report on Tuesday. 

According to a report published by The Independent, at its peak the jihadi group controlled nearly a third of Iraq and children born under the militants’ rule are now missing vital documentation, such as birth certificates.

Any papers issued by ISIS are not recognized by the Iraqi state. Others have also lost their documentation or had it confiscated when they fled their homes.

The NRC’s report, Barriers from Birth, found that it can take up a number of years for these children to receive documentation, but warned it is “nearly impossible” for those whose families are perceived to be have been affiliated with ISIS to secure paperwork.

They said it resulted in collective punishment for thousands of innocent children.

“Children are not responsible for crimes committed by their relatives, yet many are denied their basic rights as Iraqi citizens,” said Jan Egeland, NRC’s secretary general.

“We face a possible human timebomb. Allowing these children to have an education, healthcare, simply the right to exist, is key to ensuring a sustainable future for them and for the country,” he added.

“A society cannot be at peace if it allows a generation of stateless children in its midst.”

During ISIS’s rule, the group established its own version of state bureaucracy, which included registering births, marriages and deaths. 

After US-backed forces defeated the militant group and its self-styled “caliphate”, many ISIS-affiliated families and civilians who lived under their rule were put in displacement camps.

An estimated 225,000 children are believed to be living in such camps across Iraq.

One mother, Hana, who has seven children and now lives in a displacement camp in Kirkuk, said that her husband “destroyed” her life by taking her eldest son and joining ISIS in Hawija, north of Baghdad. She said she fled the town once the Iraqi government retook it from the militant group, after which the authorities confiscated her family paperwork. 

“My husband took the wrong path. He took my oldest son and left us to fight with ISIS. They are both dead now, and I am alone in this camp with my young children,” the widow said.

“Three of them don’t even have identity documents. My husband destroyed our lives; me and my children suffer,” she added. 

Back in Hawija, another family said their son, Mithaq, who was born four days after ISIS took control of the town in 2014 and is disabled, has also been barred access to proper documentation. He is also barred from receiving hospital treatment. 

The number of undocumented children is also likely to significantly rise in the coming weeks with the expected return of more than 30,000 Iraqis from Syria, the NRC report warned.

Ninety per cent of the returnees are thought to be wives and children with suspected ties to ISIS militants.

The rights group said as many as 80,000 households across Iraq may have family members missing at least one form of ID.

The total number of children may be even higher.

“Undocumented children risk remaining left on the margins of society if this issue is not addressed immediately. This seriously undermines future prospects of reconciliation efforts,” Egeland said.

“We urge the government to ensure that undocumented children have the right to exist like any other Iraqi citizen,” he added.

Foreign children affiliated with ISIS are also at risk and face an indefinite stay in Iraq, with many countries unwilling to allow them to be repatriated.

According to Reuters, at least 700 children of suspected jihadi fighters are stuck in a central women’s prison in Baghdad. Over 200 of them were born in the detention facility to mothers who arrived pregnant.