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From Daesh to ‘Diaspora’: Tracing the Women and Minors of Islamic State

From Daesh to ‘Diaspora’: Tracing the Women and Minors of Islamic State
23rd July 2018 ICSR Team
In Publications, Reports

In July 2019 this dataset was updated to account for increasing information on women and minors with Islamic State. You can access it here.

The full report can be accessed here. Read on for the Executive Summary.

Islamic State (IS) affiliates in Iraq and Syria

• 41,490 international citizens from 80 countries became affiliated with IS in Iraq and Syria.

• In the first global dataset of its scope and detail, up to 4,761 (13%) of these were recorded to be women, and 4,640 (12%) of these minors.

• Eastern Asia saw the highest proportion of recorded IS-affiliated women and minors at up to 70%, followed by Eastern Europe (44%); Western Europe (42%); the Americas, Australia and New Zealand (36%); Central Asia (30%); South-Eastern Asia (35%); Southern Asia (27%); Middle East and North Africa (MENA, 8%); and sub-Saharan Africa (<1%).

• Yet, a gross lack of data for many countries suggests there are significant gaps in real figures for women and minors globally.

• These gaps in data are particularly concentrated in the MENA region which had the highest number of IS affiliates in Syria and Iraq – 18,852.

• The number of recorded infants born inside the IS’ ‘caliphate’ to international parents – at least 730 – has also led to an underestimation of minors that must now be accounted for as foreign returnees.

IS affiliates and status after the fall of the ‘caliphate’

• This report is the first to map out in detail the diverse trajectories of IS foreign affiliates after the fall of the ‘caliphate’: from those  who were killed in Syria and Iraq; executed by IS from within their own ranks; detained by regional authorities; involved in detainee exchanges; repatriated to their home nations; in third-party countries; or whose status is simply unknown.

• We recorded up to 7,366 persons have now returned to their home countries (20%), or appear to be in repatriation processes to do so.

• Only 256 (4%) of total returnees are recorded as women, accounting for up to 5% of the women who travelled to Syria and Iraq.

• Up to 1,180 (17%) of total returnees are recorded as minors, accounting for up to 25% of minors who travelled to, or were born in, Iraq and Syria.

• South-Eastern Asia saw the highest proportion of female and minor returnees at up to 59%, followed by Western Europe (55%); Central Asia (48%); Sub-Saharan Africa (33%); Eastern Europe (18%); Americas, Australia New Zealand (8%); Southern Asia (<1%); and MENA (<1%). There were no returnees accounted for in Eastern Asia.

• However, significant discrepancies in accounting for foreign citizens in Iraq and Syria – including those described above – rarely distinguish between men and women, adults and minors, making is particularly problematic to fully assess the current status of these distinct populations.

Concerns about women and minors going forward

• Women and minors are poised to play a significant role in carrying forward the ideology and legacy of IS after the physical fall of its ‘caliphate’ in late 2017.

• Much attention has rightfully focused on Iraq and Syria, but Libya, Afghanistan and the Philippines have also proven notable countries for women and minors in IS and remain under-examined.

• Women and minors affiliated with and inspired by IS have already demonstrated their prominence as security threats, with numerous foiled and successful attacks plotted and carried out globally.

• There is a risk that many IS orphans will become stateless and fall through the cracks of repatriation and rehabilitation efforts.

• Women and minors detained in Iraq and Syria require specific attention including their access to fair trial, and potential to radicalise while detained.

Best practice

• Women and minors must be considered as distinct and complex categories, each with varying levels of agency. Do not reference them in singular categories (‘women and children’, families,’ and so forth).

• Minors in particular require nuanced consideration. This report suggests categorising them in line with their motivations and proscribed roles within IS, as infants (0 – 4 years); children (5 –14 years) and teenagers (15 –17 years).

• Delineate all data of persons affiliated with terror and extremist groups by age and gender.

• Ensure considerations particular to women and minors are integrated in all efforts to respond to and counter violent extremist organisations.

This report was written by Dr Joana Cook and Gina Vale.


*Authors’ note: Since publication, figures for the Netherlands in Figure 5 (p. 17, endnotes 170, 172, 173) have been further clarified. The 175 minors with ties to the Netherlands which are currently present in Iraq and Syria, as well as the 10 minors who have already returned (total 185 Dutch minors), are in addition to the 300 Dutch citizens that travelled to Iraq and Syria. Thus, the total Dutch citizens affiliated with IS should be 485. We apologise for this error.

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