LITTLE STUDENTS peer out from behind the bars into the light, scarred by intense trauma and uncertain of their future, terrified both of their prison and the outside world.

The images and stories of these youngsters, robbed of their childhood by the extreme violence of life under Islamic State, are harrowing.

Many are unaccompanied, the large majority are under 12. They now find themselves abandoned in appalling conditions in rudimentary camps in Syria. Governments have to do better :

This is not the way to treat children/students who are also victims of terrorism. Nor is it effective counterterrorism policy.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children with an alleged connection to the Islamic State are currently held in camps in northeastern Syria. Most are Iraqis and Syrians, but there are also thousands from some 70 other countries.

The situation is tense, and fears have grown recently that remnants of the Islamic State will attacks the camps in order to free the actual terrorists.

With notable exceptions, most governments have been slow or reluctant to take back their own nationals, citing security risks and the challenges they face identifying nationalities, gathering admissible evidence to prosecute, and developing reintegration programs.

Governments clearly have legitimate security concerns : The fight with the Islamic State is not over. And some of those in the camps men and women - are hardened fighters who have committed horrifying crimes and must be brought to justice.

After the attacks of September 11, there can be little doubt that counterterrorism   can only succeed if it based ion human rights. We should start with an approach to foreign nationals in Syria that ensures accountability while giving these children/students some hope, dignity and whatever remains of their childhood.

The World Students Society thanks author Andrew Gilmour, United Nations assistant secretary general for human rights.


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