UK has begun repatriating three British orphans from former ISIS territory in Syria

The British government is set to repatriate a group of three British orphans from Syrian territory formerly under the control of Islamic State (IS) in the coming days.

On Thursday, Dr Abdulkarim Omar, head of foreign relations in the Kurdish-led area of northern Syria, tweeted a photo of himself with the UK’s special representative for Syria Martin Longden, saying ‘three British orphans from ISIS parents were handed over to a delegation representing the British Foreign Ministry.’ 

The British government has previously ruled out repatriating British citizens trapped in former IS territory, including more than 30 children living in refugee camps and detention facilities run by the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

A picture taken on October 17, 2019, shows a woman walking among tents at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp for the displaced where families of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters are held, in the al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria.

In a statement, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘These innocent, orphaned, children should never have been subjected to the horrors of war. 

‘We have facilitated their return home, because it was the right thing to do. Now they must be allowed the privacy and given the support to return to a normal life.’

London-based advocacy group CAGE welcomed the news of the repatriation, stating that they ‘hope that the Government will now start to comply with established international law, rather than playing politics with the lives of its citizens.’

Alison Griffin, Head of Humanitarian Campaigns at Save the Children, added: ‘Today the UK government is transforming the lives of these innocent children who have been through terrible things that are far beyond their control. 

‘They will now have the precious chance to recover, have happy childhoods and live full lives. We should be proud of everyone who has worked to make this happen.

‘Every child saved is a triumph of compassion in the face of cruelty. We fervently hope this is just the start. There are still as many as 60 British children that remain stranded in appalling conditions and Syria’s harsh winter will soon begin to bite. 

‘All are as innocent as those rescued today and our very real fear is that they won’t all survive to see the spring. They must all be brought home before it is too late.’

Last month the Guardian reported that home secretary Priti Patel had blocked an operation to repatriate orphans trapped in formerly IS-held territory, with the fate of foreign fighters and their families becoming a growing diplomatic issue since the territorial defeat of the terrorist organisation’s proto-state in March 2019.  

A picture taken on February 25, 2017 shows a general view of the tents in the al-Hol camp in northeast Syria, where thousands of people who lived in IS-controlled territory now live

The United Nations has called for countries to take responsibility for their citizens and repatriate them to potentially face prosecution in their home countries. 

Other European Union states have already started repatriating citizens, and it was reported by AFP that an 11-month-old boy of a Danish woman linked to IS group was repatriated from Syria on Thursday according the family’s lawyer.

‘He arrived at the Copenhagen airport before lunch with his grandfather and one of his aunts who picked him up in a third country, neighbouring Syria,’ lawyer Tyge Trier said.

According to local press reports, his mother was of Somali origin but born in Denmark.

She had travelled to Syria a few years ago and ‘lost her life on March 19 in Syria in a bomb attack in an IS-controlled area.’

Women buy food at the al-Hol camp in Syria, where thousands of displaced civilians live alongside captured Islamic State volunteers
Iraqi refugees pictured in the UN-run al-Hol camp in northeast Syria

The child, the first Syria orphan to have been returned to Denmark, had stayed at the Al-Hol camp in the northeast of the country. 

His grandparents, who are Danish citizens, will now take care of him. 

Controlled by Kurdish forces, the Al-Hol camp hosts nearly 70,000, including thousands of women affiliated with IS.    

According to Human Rights Watch more than 1,200 foreign nationals have been repatriated from both Syria and Iraq to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Kosovo, and Turkey. 

The Foreign Office has been approached for comment.