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UK to Repatriate Orphaned Children In ISIS-Held Syria

The al-Hol camp in Syria, October 2019.
The al-Hol camp in Syria, October 2019. (Photo: Y. Boechat, VOA)

After much reluctance, the U.K. has decided to repatriate from northeastern Syria the first group of children left orphaned by the Syrian War.

In an unprecedented move, the British government announced on Thursday that it would facilitate the repatriation of several British orphaned children from northern Syria. The children are orphans of families who lived in Islamic State (ISIS)-controlled areas of northeastern Syria and whose parents were either at one point members of ISIS or were somehow caught up in the Syrian War.

The move comes several months after international military forces defeated ISIS in Syria in March of this year.

British Foreign Secretary’s official, Dominic Raab, was quoted by the BBC as saying “the innocent 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.”

The children will be the first batch of U.K. citizens to leave the conflict zone of north-eastern Syria where debate has raged about what to do with children caught in the crossfires of the Syrian War. Since March of this year when ISIS was declared defeated, the fate of ISIS fighters and other foreigners has been a key issue, as the UK has been reluctant to welcome back its citizens home.

According to the UK-based Independent newspaper, 25 British men and women, along with more than 60 of their children, have lived in northern Syria since they have fled the ISIS’s defeated caliphate. The majority of the British children are under the age of five and believed to have been born in the Syrian territories.

United Nations records suggest that over the past several months around 1,200 foreigners of various nationalities have been repatriated from both Syria and neighboring Iraq to different countries, including Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia, Kosovo and Turkey.

However, Human Rights Watch has described the government-facilitated repatriation process as slow and inadequate.

Alison Griffin, head of Humanitarian campaigns at Save The Children, was quoted by the BBC as saying “these children, who are going to be repatriated, will now have a precious chance to recover, have happy childhoods and live full lives. We should be proud of everyone who has worked to make this happen.”

Griffin expressed hope that the repatriation of British children will be just the start for further repatriations of other foreign nationals in the troubled and war-torn Syria.

According to the United Nations, thousands of women and children have taken shelters in camps of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are Kurdish militias that helped to defeat the ISIS terrorist group with backing from the United States and the United Kingdom.

The majority of people are being hosted in the al-Hol camp, where as recently as September the camp’s population was estimated at 20,000 women and 50,000 children guarded by about 400 SDF soldiers.

Other European countries like France, Germany, Norway and Denmark have facilitated the return of a small number of their citizens, mostly orphans whose parents were killed during the last months of the ISIS caliphate in Syrian territories.

Australia reportedly repatriated eight children and grandchildren of two Australian nationals, who fought for ISIS in Syria.

Last month, the Turkish military invaded northeastern Syria and attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces on what Turkey said was an attempt to eliminate Kurdish insurgents. As the Turkish military campaign started, U.S. forces, which have backed the SDF in the fight against ISIS, withdrew from the area sparking controversy and accusations that the U.S. abandoned its Kurdish allies.

With the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the Kurdish militias have been a part of the dissident US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. However, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the heavily Kurdish region of northern Syria, prior to the Turkish initiative in the region.

Over the past four decades, Turkey has been in a battle with Kurdish militias that are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which seeks a national home of their own in the south of Turkey.

Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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