Three Orphaned Children Of Islamist Fighters In Syria Could Get ‘Safe Passage’ To UK

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab announces change in policy as MPs say siblings should not carry "the sins of their parents".

Three orphaned children of British Islamist fighters in Syria could be given safe passage back to the UK, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has revealed.

During a Commons statement on Britain’s response to Turkey’s military offensive in the Kurdish-held region of the country, Raab said for the first time that he would look at allowing such unaccompanied minors to be returned home.

As he announced UK arms sales to Ankara were being suspended in retaliation for the invasion, Raab also said that “it is utterly unfair that such innocents should be caught in the crossfire”.

Several MPs and charities have called for intervention after the BBC discovered the three siblings, believed to be from London, stranded in a camp in northern Syria.

The parents of Amira, Heba, and Hamza - who are 10, eight and six - joined so-called Islamic State (IS) five years ago and were killed during bombing raids.

The youngsters were taken to Raqqa along with 24 other orphans, the United Nations children’s agency said, and are now in the care of Save the Children.

President Trump has come under attack at home and abroad after his US troop withdrawal gave the green light for the Turkish military to launch a major cross-border operation in north-eastern Syria against a Kurdish-led alliance fighting IS.

Three orphans Syria
Three orphans Syria
BBC

The UK in common with many countries has had a strict policy of refusing to take back and prosecute ‘foreign fighters’ in the region, but Raab said that the recent Turkish action had prompted a rethink on the status of children or orphans.

“We are looking, in relation to orphans and unaccompanied minors who bear UK nationality, at whether they can be provided safe passage to return to the UK because as he said it is utterly unfair that such innocents should be caught in the crossfire,” he said.

Raab was responding to a plea from SNP foreign affairs spokesman Stephen Gethins, who praised the BBC for its reporting and said “surely children do not carry the sins of their parents”.

The foreign secretary replied: “In relation to unaccompanied minors or orphans, assuming they would present no security threat - minors goes right the way up to close to 18 - we would be willing to see them return home if that can be done in a safe way given the situation on the ground.”

The three children’s mother, father, two sisters and two brothers were killed in April during the last battle in Baghouz before IS surrendered.

They were being held in the Ain Issa camp, which contained around 200 IS supporters but is now empty, following the advance of Turkish troops.

Amira also told the BBC that she had a grandmother in the UK but couldn’t remember her name, and that she wanted to go home.

On Tuesday, former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told Radio 4: “We should try and find a way to bring them home. The sins of the parents should not be visited on their children and they should be given a start.”

Raab said that government policy of refusing the return of ‘foreign fighters’ would now be reviewed given that many of them appear to be on the run in the wake of the Turkish action.

Under intense pressure from Labour, Tory and other MPs, Raab also announced that an arms ban was being placed on exports to Turkey.

“This is not the action we expected from an ally. It is reckless, it is counter-productive and it plays straight into the hands of Russia and indeed the Assad regime.”

The UK he said “takes its arms export control responsibilities very seriously”, adding that “in this case of course we will keep our defence exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review”.

“I can tell the House that no further export licences to Turkey for items which might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review.”