Isis is paying the people smugglers' fees for refugee children

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Isis is paying people smugglers' fees of $2,000 to recruit child refugees, according to a new study from a terror watch group.

After presenting initial findings at a seminar on youth extremism held in London by the ESRC in January, the Quilliam Foundation has published research into the means through which Isis and other groups recruit refugees to their cause.

The report found that often material persuasion was used in place of ideological or religious fanaticism to recruit refugees to Isis and other terrorist organisations.

Refuge: Pathways of Youth Fleeing Extremism also identified several 'nexus' of vulnerability around the world where refugees were more susceptible to recruitment.

Where Isis finds its recruits

Quilliam researchers Nikita Malik and Haras Rafiq identified four places in the world, and their surrounding areas.

'Vulnerabilities' were identified in refugees' home country, their point of first refuge, and the sea routes into Europe and south-east Asia.

Click on each country for details from Quilliam's report.

Targeting refugees for recruitment

Malik and Rafiq found that the radicalisation and recruitment of refugees occurs in camps when short-term vulnerabilities are exploited. These include a shortage of cash, food, water, a need for respite due to poor conditions or need for money to gain safe passage.

East Africa’s al-shabaab (‘the Youth’ of al-Qeada) in particular have been known to exploit this. Recruitment is done quickly in order to ensure that refugees do not have time get help from elsewhere.

Quilliam found that 48 per cent of al-shabaab recruits joined within 30 days of first being “introduced” to the organisation.

Isis is recruiting with cash in Lebanon and Jordan’s refugee camps, spending up to $2000 (USD) on recruiting. One of these costs includes safe passage to Europe in exchange for joining Isis.

Quilliam found that Isis have been paying the smuggler’s fees for the refugees wishing to enter Europe via the eastern Mediterranean.

Isis was also offering to waive the usual fee (sometimes up to $560 USD) for passage towards the Mediterranean coast to those willing to join.

The report states:

The financial lure is ever-present on the refugee journey - to those reaching the Mediterranean coast, Isis offer potential recruits up to $1,000 to join the organisation.

Isis is clearly aware of the value of these refugee routes for the purposes of recruitment and for exporting their operatives into Europe.

Quilliam also noted recruiting children for Isis is important, implying a future for their state.

Ideology online

By contrast, Isis and al-Qaeda's online propaganda does not focus on solving immediate needs.

Analysis by Quilliam of posts by Daesh, al-Qaeda and the like found that 53 per cent of posts played on the concept of jihad, while 33 per cent on grievances against the west.

The arrivals

Refugees who reach Europe are mostly men, but refugees from several Quilliams ‘nexus’ are young men. For instance of 1.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Quilliam suggested more than half were under the age of 14.

Further troubling statistics showed that 83,0000 unaccompanied refugees in Europe were children, and 10,000 unaccompanied refugees have disappeared from the grid upon arrival in Europe.

Quilliam also identified problems in European host countries

For instance, Quilliam stated that 3,000 detainees in UK asylum detention centres were on suicide watch during 2015, including 11 children. In UK law, detaining an asylum seeker has no time limit – the UK is the only EU country not to have one.

'Reciprocal radicalisation'

The very suspicion that refugees are in fact Isis recruits was cited by Quilliam as a source of anti-refugee sentiment in Europe.

This in itself helps Isis to recruit more followers on an anti-Western basis. Researcher of the European far right, professor Roger Eatwell called this 'cumulative extremism' in which one type feeds off another.

Quilliam referred to it as 'reciprocal radicalisation', and found much hostility towards refugees by far right groups in Britain, and in the mainstream media.

Negative perceptions were found to be commonplace on the social media accounts of far right groups.

Analysing the Facebook groups of the English Defence League (EDL), Britain First, and Pegida between 18 August 2016 and 6 January 2017, Quilliam found a prevalence of negative associations with refugees.

13 per cent of posts about refugees made references to religion, and 20 per cent to violence.

They also found that groups such as Pegida and the EDL tended to find source material for their anti-refugee posts in the British media. The two most employed outlets were the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.

By contrast, Britain First produced much of their own content, and would link back to articles on their own website.


The executive summary of Quilliam's report touched upon how the UK responds to children asylum seekers, in an effort to prevent Isis from being able to capitalise on them.

By treating children as asylum seekers, the UK is not fulfilling its obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the country. Thus, Quilliam argues that more should be done to discern an applicant's age.

Moreover the report has shown that there is evidence to suggest that young people are not always treated appropriately in the UK’s IRCs that needs to be changed, and former unaccompanied children should be supported as they prepare for life in Britain, using Safeguarding and Resilience against Extremism (SRE) frameworks that Quilliam puts forward for evaluation.

In response to Quilliam's report, Lily Caprani, Unicef UK Deputy Executive Director, told indy100:

Currently, too many children with a legal right be in the UK are forced into the hands of criminal traffickers and smugglers because no system is in place to get them to safety. We need to ensure that children in danger are helped by the law and not pulled into a new horror by the lawless. This shows why it is so urgent for our Government to step up efforts to get unaccompanied children out of camps and into homes waiting for them in the UK.

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