Thursday, May 30, 2024

First British woman and her child repatriated to UK from Syrian camp | Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

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A British woman and her child have been repatriated from a Syrian camp, the first time an adult has been allowed to come back to the UK from detention since the end of the ground war against Islamic State.

The Foreign Office said that British policy to those held in Syria remained unchanged, and that it considered requests for help on “a case by case basis”, but campaigners said it was a significant first step.

Reprieve, a human rights group that had been monitoring the case, said the woman was “a victim of trafficking, taken to Syria by a male relative when she was a young girl” and that “she and her child have suffered extreme trauma”.

The identity of the woman was not immediately known, and Reprieve asked that her name be protected. The initial announcement by the Foreign Office was even less specific, and was made quietly in an overnight tweet.

Jonathan Hargreaves, the UK’s special representative for Syria, tweeted on Wednesday night: “UK officials have facilitated the repatriation of two British nationals from Syria. In line with longstanding policy we consider each request for consular assistance in Syria on a case by case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations including national security.”

It is estimated about 60 Britons, including 35 children, are being held in indefinite detention in Syria. The best known is Shamima Begum, who fled Bethnal Green and travelled to Syria when she was 15. Most were captured by Syrian Kurdish forces in the final days of the ground war in early 2019 and have been held in indefinite detention in sprawling camps such as al-Hawl in the north-east of Syria.

Although progress has been slow, some countries have been gradually taking back their nationals. Earlier this month it emerged Australia would start repatriating about 60 people, 20 women and 40 children, from the camps.

Britain has held out longer than most other nations. Nearly three years ago a number of orphans were repatriated, with the then foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, saying bringing them home was the “right thing to do”.

It is not clear whether Wednesday’s announcement will herald a further shift in practice. Complicating the picture is the fact that the UK removed the citizenship from some of those who travelled to Syria, including Begum, although her lawyers continue to contest her case in the courts.

Countries had said they feared that some of the detainees posed an ongoing security risk, because they had affiliated to Islamic State. However, conditions in detention remain poor and many of the children were either born in the camps or know no other life than living in often squalid conditions.

Experts also said the women in the camps were at risk of further radicalisation from a hardcore of “radical women” who remained IS supporters and dictated some of the conditions in the camps. Men who are detained are typically held separately in makeshift prisons.

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