ISIS targets refugees who need our help, says Quilliam

We must protect the vulnerable from extremists


Quilliam’s new report Refuge: Pathways of Youth Fleeing Extremism sheds light on the relationship between young asylum seekers fleeing conflict and the extremist groups that prey upon them.

In doing so, it identifies risk ‘hotspots’ where refugees are vulnerable to radicalisation from their country of origin to their country of destination, and makes suggestions on how to minimise these risks.

The situation for those fleeing extremism in their country of origin and onwards to a ‘Safe Third Country’ is one of extreme difficulty. In addition to growing violence, they face shortages of food and money with which to support themselves and their families.

Extremist organisations have been filling this void in state and international services, providing refuges and internally displaced persons the chance to better their position economically, or otherwise.

This can be in the form of monetary incentives, with groups like Islamic State or al-Shabaab finding ways to ‘buy’ allegiance from refugees by funding their travel or working with traffickers or smugglers.

At times such as this, it need only be the case that the group recruiting is able to pay more than another. Islamic State has also been known to exploit food shortages by distributing food in exchange for allegiance.

However, education is the most concerning vulnerability at this stage of a refugee’s journey. As a result of prolonged displacement, children are deprived of their right to education.

In Lebanon, out of a sample of 500,000 refugee children who are eligible to attend school, more than half are not in education offered to them by Lebanon’s governmental school system.

This, along with multiple attacks on schools and other educational institutions by extremist organisations, allows extremists to gain control of the information provided to children, making them vulnerable to radicalisation.

The Taliban, IS, and al-Shabaab have all adopted the educational approach to radicalisation and recruitment.

Children and young people who are indoctrinated and eventually recruited by extremist organisations like IS are an important symbol to the image of the group.

The presence of children allows the organisation to convey a sense of future and stability; important in a region troubled by war. It is estimated that 45 per cent of IS propaganda targets youth to build and sustain its future.

IS condition the young minds they indoctrinate to act without hesitation; fighters for the future. In addition, the image of refugees leaving a so-called Islamic state is damaging to Islamist groups such as IS.

It is for this reason that refugees are specifically targeted by IS; they use propaganda to warn refugees of the consequences they will face for leaving the ‘caliphate’ for the sake of asylum in a non-Islamic country, such as death, violence, rape and humiliation.

As a result of this vulnerability, Quilliam recommends that the UK government honour its commitments under Article 4 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

This requires the UK to ensure that the rights contained within that convention should be fully integrated within a state’s policy for international development assistance, and that development strategies should be rights-based, and include a substantial focus on children.

In line with this, the UK Department for International Development should adopt a comprehensive rights based framework to ensure that children and young people, in countries of origin, are adequately safeguarded, have access to good quality education and health care, and can exercise their right to have a voice in the decisions which affect their lives.

This will reduce the likelihood of them embarking on such hazardous journeys which exacerbate their vulnerabilities and expose them to a range of significant risks.

Frontline practitioners and police recognise that young people who do embark upon these hazardous journeys are often targeted by extremists, traffickers, and criminals.

They are the criminals, and the children are victims. Let us make sure the vulnerable do not turn to the exteme.

Katie Passey is a researcher at Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism organisation. Follow Quilliam on Twitter @QuilliamF

See: Extremists in prisons: How do you curb Islamist recruitment behind bars?

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