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IOHR organise a discussion on the pathways for the children of IS and militant groups

15 March 2019

What: IOHR organise a discussion on the pathways for the children of I.S and militant groups.
When: 14th March 2019, 6-8pm
Where: Bankside House London School of Economics – Auditorium room

On Thursday 14 March the International Observatory of Human Rights organised a discussion hosted by Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory of Human Rights, that brought together families of British and European children to share their first-hand experiences of trying to get the children back to safety from Syria and Iraq. Concern for these children grows as fighting in Syria comes to its conclusion and the last remaining pockets of I.S-held enclaves crumble.

According to an article published by the Guardian in December 2018, there are 1,200 foreign children, including 10 from Britain, left in legal limbo since ISIS was driven out of its de facto capital Raqqa, in October 2017.

The panel included top human rights barrister Usha R Sood and former Al Qaeda member and founder of Active Change Foundation Hanif Qadir and policy officers from the Belgian NGO, Child Focus who discussed where the UK and Europe stand in terms of their human rights responsibilities and commitments to international law.

The discussion questioned the general position that governments take on the innocent children whose parents have chosen to return from Syria and examined what efforts and processes have been put in place to bring these children back home.

The panel, from left to right: Hanif Qadir, Ashfaq Khurshid, Usha Sood, Fatiha Lakjaa, Valerie Peay and Kristien Gillis.

The panel included:

Fatiha Lakjaa – Belgian citizen Fatiha is the grandmother of 6 children who are currently stuck in Syria with no clear way of coming home. The Belgian government won an appeal last week concluding that it no longer has an obligation to bring the mothers or the kids back.

When asked why she thinks the Belgian government have not invoked relevant human rights laws Fatiha said,

“I have a feeling that public opinion matters more than the law.”

Ashfaq Khurshid – Ashfaq lost his son Haroon fighting with militant groups in Syria. His grandchild Salmaan is currently with his Canadian mother, and last communicated with them over a month ago. Their whereabouts is unknown at the moment.

Usha R. Sood – Barrister at Trent Chambers: Usha has always been at the heart of community matters across the Midlands and offers support to numerous charitable and public interest cases.  She also combined this with an academic career as Senior Lecturer in Law at Nottingham Trent University. Usha has numerous specialist areas including work on child abduction cases, dowry recovery, human rights, child and human trafficking, public law cases, and international family and civil law litigation.

Used agreed with Fatiha and said that,

“One issue is that this is a very politicised battle.”

Usha went on to enlighten the crowd to let them know the legal steps that could be taken to help the families get their grandchildren back,

“There is scope and hope in the present situation if we adopt the concept of wardship.”

Usha detailed how wardship, a legal tool she has used before in cases involving rights of the child, could be used in these cases. She said,

“This (wardship) is not restricted to British citizenship law. It can be in any situation where the child has some connection to the UK. It is also not restricted by use only of family members to start these proceedings, any individual or group such as an NGO can do this.”

Hanif Qadir – Founder, Active Change Foundation: A former foreign fighter himself, Hanif once joined Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan but was deterred by the crimes he saw being committed against civilians and turned his back on them. Actively involved in advising and assisting senior policymakers in reforming key aspects of the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) and Counter Violent Extremism (CVE), Hanif works closely with a wide range of governmental institutions, most of the UK’s Police Authorities, as well as research academics across the globe.

At the event he concurred that the,

“Government are posturing to the will of public opinion.”

Hanif went on to emphasise the importance of bringing the children home, he said,

“Please, let’s not fail these young children, because we are facing a bigger problem down the road if we do.”

Kristien Gillis – Case Manager – Child Focus: Child Focus is a Belgian based NGO that has been supporting Fatiha in her plight to bring her 6 grandchildren back, they have travelled to various camps in Syria and have first-hand experience with meeting over 30 Belgian children and more than 150 minors currently stuck in the camps. 

Offering support to Fatiha at the discussion, Kristien translated,

“They are Belgian children and we must treat them as such.”

Valerie Peay, Director, International Observatory of Human Rights said,

“IOHR will continue our work to reach out to the UK Government and other NGOs on a European basis to investigate all legal pathways to bring these children home to safety”

Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR address the audience. From left to right: Hanif Qadir, Ashfaq Khurshid, Usha Sood, Valerie Peay, Fatiha Lakjaa, and Kristien Gillis.


With the question of what to do with IS returnees from Syria, the International Observatory of Human Rights has been focusing on the true victims: The Children. IOHR has been supporting the case of Ashfaq Khurshid be bringing it to the public through interviews on BBC and other major publications. IOHR has also helped Khurshid open up a case with The Red Cross to keep watch for baby Salmaan on the ground in Syria.

Related Media Coverage for #SaveSalmaan Campaign

About the International Observatory of Human Rights

The International Observatory of Human Rights was established in 2017 in London as an independent non-profit and non-governmental organisation.

The team is made up of human rights professionals, lawyers, researchers, award-winning journalists and academics of diverse backgrounds and nationalities.
IOHR utilises its unique access and the expertise of its multilingual and dedicated staff to advocate for human rights worldwide.

The International Observatory of Human Rights has created partnerships with local and international human rights groups. The IOHR advocacy team meets with governments, members of parliament and global groups such as the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and businesses to drive and promote positive changes and push for justice and the respect of human rights worldwide.

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