Britain will bring back a woman and her five children from Syrian camps.

UK Falling Behind in Repatriating Families from Syria, Say Human Rights Group

The UK has agreed to bring back a woman and five children from Syrian camps, marking the second time the country has allowed an adult to return since the end of the war against Islamic State four years ago. The Kurdish administration in north-east Syria announced their release, but a human rights group and a former minister claim that the UK is lagging behind other western nations in repatriating families who lived under IS.

A Syrian news agency reported that the woman and children, who hold UK nationality, were handed over to British officials on Saturday. Robel Baho, from the Syrian Kurdish administration, called on the international community to expedite further repatriations for people who have been held for several years. France has already repatriated more than 160 children and over 50 women, while Germany has taken back nearly 100 women and children. However, the UK has been slow to address the issue.

Maya Foa, executive director of Reprieve, welcomed the latest repatriation but expressed concern for other British families still detained in desert prison camps due to the UK government’s inaction. Foa criticised the UK’s “cruel, counterproductive, politically motivated policy,” which stands out among western nations. She noted that British children are growing up in dangerous tent cities under the control of armed men.

There are believed to be around 20-25 women or families with British nationality still in Syrian camps, as well as others who had their citizenship revoked and are now challenging the decision in UK courts. Notably, the case of Shamima Begum is currently before the Court of Appeal. Since 2019, only one other adult, a woman, has been repatriated, along with ten or more children with British parents.

The UK claims to make repatriation decisions on a case-by-case basis, although the rationale behind each decision is not always clear. Former cabinet minister David Davis argued that UK allies, including Australia, Canada, France, and Germany, have all started repatriating their nationals, and that it is the only sensible solution. Davis criticized the UK for shirking its responsibility. He also suggested that British authorities could prosecute returnees for terror offenses if they posed an ongoing threat to national security.

In 2019, Syrian Kurdish ground forces, supported by the US and the UK, detained hundreds of women and children as IS was defeated. Many of these individuals had traveled from other countries to live under the Islamic caliphate declared by the terror group. However, Reprieve argues that many of the women were effectively trafficked.

The Foreign Office has been asked for comment.

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