ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The British government announced on Thursday that it had begun the process of repatriating “a number of” orphaned children whose parents were affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. On the following day, UK media reported that they had already flown from Erbil to London and had been reunited with family members.
“These innocent, orphaned, children should never have been subjected to the horrors of war,” said Dominic Raab, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in an official government statement.
“We have facilitated their return home, because it was the right thing to do.”
The statement did not reveal the number or age of the children that will be repatriated, nor any details about their parents' identities or roles in the extremist organization.
Some 68,000 women and children of suspected Islamic State fighters are being held in Al-Hol Camp in northern Syria, guarded by the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). More are held in other SDF detention facilities.
Most European states have been reluctant to bring back the fighters, their wives, or their children who are stuck in Syria, fearing that due to a lack of evidence, potentially dangerous Islamic State sympathizers could be quickly released once they appear in court after returning home.
On Friday, The Telegraph reported that the children had been retrieved in Syria by British special forces earlier in the week and had boarded a plane from the Kurdistan Region's capital of Erbil on Thursday night, escorted by officials from the Foreign Office.
They landed in London on Friday, the London-based paper reported, where “they immediately recognised the family members and family home on their arrival,” according to an account provided to a court hearing related to their case.
“They have settled into the home and appear to be as happy as they possibly could be given the circumstances of their return,” the paper reported, adding, “Speaking mostly in Arabic, they remembered little about their family and could not give their surname.”
United Nations and the SDF have called on European nations to bring home thousands of their nationals accused of joining the Islamic State, but few appear willing to do so.
Raab, the British Secretary said, “Now they must be allowed the privacy and given the support to return to a normal life.”
Editing by John J. Catherine