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Open letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to repatriate all British children in Syria

Dear Foreign Secretary,

British children are still being held in detention two years after the siege of the ISIS stronghold of Baghouz which drove the last cohort of women and children into the refugee camps of north eastern Syria.

It is three months since our previous correspondence, and I again appeal to you for the immediate repatriation of British children and their mothers trapped in Syria. Save the Children estimated there were approximately 60 children and their mothers in camps a year ago. The number will be reduced today as ISIS has smuggled out its stalwarts. It is not a large number to repatriate but it would save the lives of many of these children and enable the rehabilitation of their mothers.

These British children have spent most of their childhoods living in terrifying conditions, their mothers at risk of ISIS retaliation squads, children facing violence for being foreigners, limited access to water, food and no education. As we celebrate the successful roll out of vaccines at home, these children face Covid-19 with no protection or medical supplies. In the UK we have a hopeful vision of the future for our families; you have the opportunity to bring these children home from Syria and give them hope for a life.

The British government has been reticent in returning these families as there is the unsubstantiated perception that they may pose a threat to society. On Friday 26 February the Supreme Court will give its verdict on the appeal of Shamima Begum. During this hearing in November 2020 the court was told that women and children non-combatants were “desensitis[ed] to acts of brutality” and those still in Syria would be indoctrinated and pose an increased risk to British society. However the report from British Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) on 24 February 2021 identified that rather than fearing a few dozen young children trapped in Syria, the UK public is already at risk from UK Extremist groups able to operate lawfully in the UK since there is no specific legislation capturing hateful extremism.

Britain, a proud abider to the international rules based order, must take note that to ignore the plight of these children will leave us on the wrong side of history. The United Nations, the United States and the European Parliament, allies who share our ideals and world visions have all called for the repatriation of these children.

Under Article 20 (1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC):

“A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.”

Foreign Secretary, you have previously noted that: “safely facilitating the return of orphans or unaccompanied British children, where possible, is the right thing to do.” No British child, unaccompanied or otherwise, should be abandoned when there is the opportunity to answer the call of our international partners and safely return these children and their mothers to the UK now.

The International Observatory of Human Rights along with many other civil society groups calls for a humanitarian mission to immediately repatriate all British Children in Syria. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you or your representatives at any time to discuss this issue or assist in any way to save these children and give them a future .

Yours faithfully,

Valerie Peay
International Observatory of Human Rights

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