Boris Johnson says Government ‘should help’ return British children of Isil suspects – as Cabinet split over repatriation plan

Boris Johnson on Friday appeared open to the return of more children of British Islamic state suspects from Syria, saying the Government “should help” where it was possible.

The Prime Minister, speaking ahead of a Question Time election special, said that the logistics were extremely complicated and it was unlikely all the stranded children would be brought to the UK.

However, Mr Johnson hailed the rescue of a number of British orphans from north-east Syria on Thursday as a “great success” and added that in future “where the Government can help then it should help.”

The operation followed months of pressure from the US and local partner forces for Britain to take responsibility for its nationals. 

The Prime Minister’s intervention came amid a Cabinet split over mooted plans to mount a more comprehensive rescue mission for the children of British Islamic State parents stranded in decrepit refugee camps in the war-torn nation. 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is believed to be considering the repatriation of the roughly 60 other children currently in Kurdish-held Syria.

However, Priti Patel, Home Secretary, Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary, and Sajid Javid, former home secretary and now Chancellor, are opposed to a “wholesale” return of minors due to security concerns.

The Telegraph understands that one of the main objections centres on a handful of teenage boys in the group of 60, who are feared to have been radicalised and trained by Isil during their time in the “caliphate”.

It is not thought any further evacuations are imminent, though it is understood those next in line for consideration would be women in the camps who have not had their citizenship revoked, along with their 10 children. 

“Priti, Ben and Sajid don’t want to change policy to be more proactive to take out minors,” a source with knowledge of the Government discussions on the issue told this paper.  “It has to be done on a case-by-case basis. There is a risk the next case could be where the parents don’t have nationality because it has been withdrawn.”

They added: “It’s true to say there is one camp that doesn’t want the policy to be wholesale bringing back of minors. Within that group, there are 15, 16 and 17 year olds trained in Syria.

“We may not know what they and their mothers might have been up to. And if we do, there may not be evidence to prove it. There are potentially regulations where we can put certain monitoring and restrictions in place.

“But essentially you are opening the door to having a lot of adults around the country who have vowed death to the West and been trained to use a firearm."

There are some seven British men, more than 20 British women and around 60 of their children detained in camps and prison run by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The UK had been reluctant to evacuate their citizens until this week, citing security concerns.

A number of ministers had also claimed the extraction out of Syria – a route a number of British journalists and NGOs have taken in recent months – was not safe for special forces.

Donald Trump’s administration has been lobbying Britain and other European countries for months to take back the children of Isil fighters still in Syria, both publicly and privately. 

Children of the Islamic State | By the numbers

The US president’s diplomats have been offering “technical expertise” about how to reintegrate foreign fighters who cannot be prosecuted and their relatives back into society. 

It emerged yesterday that the orphans were taken by Kurdish forces to the Semalka border crossing with Iraq, where they were met by a delegation of Foreign Office officials.

They were escorted into neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan with the help of special forces.

A number of other Western countries, including the US, France, Italy, Germany and Denmark, had already repatriated unaccompanied minors and children with little problem.

However, few have agreed to the evacuation of male fighters. 

Human Rights Watch has described government-facilitated repatriations of foreign nationals as “piecemeal.”

It said more than 1,200 foreign nationals have been repatriated from both Syria and Iraq to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Kosovo, and Turkey.

It is unclear if the UK Government would attempt to separate women who have had their citizenship revoked from their children, or if any of the women would agree to it.

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It is thought that a vast number of the male detainees and a proportion of the female ones had been stripped of their British nationality. A number of them are appealing the Home Office decisions in court in London.

The Telegraph spoke to a number of British women in Roj and Hol camp – some of whom had only arrived in March, while some had been detained for as long as two years. None said they would allow their children to leave without them.

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