In 2019, Patricio Galvez went to Syria to try to save his seven grandchildren from a refugee camp. A new documentary called Children of the Enemy follows his journey to get his grandchildren back from the Islamic State.
Galvez’s journey started in Jan. 2019 when he learned that his daughter, Amanda Gonzales, had died during an airstrike in Syria. Galvez hadn’t seen his daughter in years after she married one of the most hated Swedish ISIS terrorists, Michael Skramo, and moved their family to Syria.
The 53-year-old said that when his daughter lived in Sweden she tried to convert him over to ISIS. And before her death, she kept on asking him for money while her family jumped from safe house to safe house in Syria.
According to reports, Amanda died when a piece of shrapnel pierced her in the back. She was pregnant with her eighth child at the time of her death. Her other children watched their mother bleed out. After her death, the children, ages one through eight, stayed with their father before ending up in the Al-Hol refugee camp after he got shot to death.
Patricio knew that he needed to save his grandchildren, three of them he had never even met.
“I needed to get them out of that hell as quickly as possible,” Galvez said. “I wanted to get them away from intolerance, which is like a malignant cancer.”
According to a report by Save the Children, a charity which helps refugee children, 40 percent of ISIS children are receiving an education at the Al-Hol camp, but violence is still a daily occurrence in the camps. Many children told the charity that they are afraid to go to the market and even the bathrooms by themselves.
The report said that “Murders, attempted murders, assaults and deliberate arson are also common.” The camp housed over roughly 60,000 people in 2019 when Galvez went to save his grandchildren.
Refugee children are also in danger of getting indoctrinated back into the Islamic State by teams of ISIS women who are known to brainwash the young children there.
Patricio Galvez teamed up with filmmaker Gorki Glaser-Muller and it took them two months to get access to the children and bring them back to Sweden. His grandchildren were so malnourished that his 1-year-old grandson, Muhammed, couldn’t even hold up his head.
“It was very clear that Patricio would succumb to sorrow if he was not successful,” said Glaser-Muller about saving the children. “And I thought, ‘Am I going to be the one who has to pick up the pieces?’ At a certain point you have to choose being a filmmaker or being a person.”
While the two men were working on the documentary, their mission became famous in Sweden. Many Swedish citizens did not want the children to come into the country. A survey was conducted by YouGov and 54% of those polled said they did not want the children in Sweden, compared to the 23% who did.
Galvez said that he started getting angry messages about his grandchildren on social media. One user wrote, “You’ve raised a terrorist; you are not a fit parent.”
Rena Effendi, a photojournalist who documented Galvez’s journey to Syria, said that they are roughly 28,000 children in ISIS refugee camps and around 8,000 of them aren’t even citizens of Iraq or Syria. Many of the children come from 60 different countries because their parents decided to convert and follow the Islamic State.
“Their emotional wounds are festering rather than healing,” she said. “The world has decided to brand them as children of ISIS – a stigma like no other. They have committed no crime.”
While Patricio Galvez was able to save his grandchildren from the refugee camp and bring them back to Sweden, he wasn’t able to be with them. The 53-year-old was not equipped to care for seven children all by himself, so the Swedish government put them into foster homes, where according to their grandfather they are finally making friends.
Since being produced, the documentary is doing very well and has even been nominated for awards. It was recently selected as one of 12 films to watch by DOC NYC Film Festival.