DAMASCUS (Dispatches) – Children’s laughter escapes from a prefabricated building where the air conditioning runs at full blast in the July heat. Inside, there are about 20 girls and boys, between eight and 10 years old.
“Who among the girls can tell me the story of the three little goats?” asks their Kurdish teacher, who has adapted the famous story of the three little pigs. Sitting behind her desk, wearing a green T-shirt with printed watermelons, Kahina raises her hand and answers: “There are Ramla, Thalja and Ramada. One made her house out of straw, the other out of wood, and Ramada built it out of stone.” The whole class applauds, and Kahina smiles shyly.
The little girl is nine years old and British. Her mother, an ex-member of the Daesh terrorist group, has been incarcerated for several months in this prison in Hasakah, after being arrested in the al-Hol camp.
Three adults are in charge of Kahina’s class, but they seem overwhelmed. After a few minutes, the children leave their desks and prefer to play with their friends. “Our job is tough because each student comes from a different country,” Solin, one of the teachers, told MEE.
The children are different nationalities. Some speak Arabic well, others do not at all. One little girl from Tajikistan didn’t understand anything at the beginning of classes. “She was screaming, ‘Leave me, leave me!’ Finally, her older brother helped me communicate with her,” Solin adds.
Five times a week, starting at 9am, the 71 children are taken out of the cells where they sleep with their mothers to spend a few hours in the education centre. Behind its heavy metal door, several prefabs are spread around a courtyard whose walls are covered with drawings that are already beginning to fade. In the middle is a small swimming pool without water. In the middle of summer, the heat is stifling; but it is even more so in the prison cells, ventilated only by small openings.
This center, managed by the local Kurdish authorities, was built in 2020 to care for children of detained women who are suspected to be ex-members of Daesh.
The children are between two and 12 years old.
“I am from Morocco,” said a boy as he left his classroom. Next to him, his friend laughs and adds: “I’m from Tunisia.” Another boy points at a classmate and says: “She’s French.”
Some speak Arabic, sometimes with an accent from Raqqa, the former Syrian capital of Daseh. Among this group of little boys there is also a Turk, an Indonesian and an Uzbek. People of many nationalities joined Daesh when the foreign-backed group controlled part of the Syrian territory. Today, it no longer has control over any territory, but thousands of its members are still in northeast Syria, held by the US-backed so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in prisons or camps. With them are thousands of children.