The UK is to repatriate orphaned British children in Syria whose parents are suspected of having joined the so-called Islamic State jihadist group, the Foreign Secretary announced on Thursday.
“These innocent, orphaned, children should never have been the subject to the horrors of war. We have facilitated their return home, because it was the right thing to do,” Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“Now they must be allowed the privacy and given the support to return to a normal life,” he added.
The government did not mention however how many children were concerned or when the repatriation would take place but an official from the Kurdish administration in Syria said that three children had been handed over the British authorities on Thursday.
Kartik Raj from Human Rights Watch described the announcement as “positive” flagging that these children live in a “dire situation”.
The watchdog had stated earlier this year that Western Europe’s efforts to repatriate their citizens held in camps in northern Syria and Iraq were “piecemeal” and fell short of what other countries including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan had done already.
According to the NGO, Norway and France had, by mid-June, repatriated five and 17 orphans respectively while Sweden had flown home seven children, the Netherlands, two, and Germany, fewer than 10. Belgium also brought back six orphans in June.
Around 12,000 foreign nationals are believed to be detained in Kurdish-administered camps in northern Syria, many of them women and children.
A report from the nonprofit Soufan Center estimated that some 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries joined IS’s ranks between 2014 and 2017, including 5,000 EU nationals.
With more than 1,900 citizens gone abroad to fight for IS, France was the most heavily burdened EU country while the UK was estimated to have swollen the ranks of the terror group with 850 fighters.
The international community has been reluctant to bring them back home, fearful that they wouldn’t be able to prove their involvement with the terror group and thus be forced to release them, leaving them more vulnerable to home-grown terrorist attacks.
Some countries, including Britain, have instead stripped some of their dual nationals of their nationality. Denmark legislated to do just so last month.
But concerns over the fate of these foreign nationals were heightened after Turkey launched its military offensive against Western-backed Kurdish groups it considers terrorist organisations on October 9. Ankara has since upped the pressure on Western countries by starting to deport foreign nationals out of the camps.