British orphans rescued from Islamic State ‘in good spirits’ as they return home

British orphans rescued from Syria have had an emotional reunion with relatives in the UK and appear to be in “good spirits” after four years trapped in Islamic State’s caliphate.

The children were greeted by family members at the airport in London and slept in the car on the way home, said to be tired after a long journey. 

The children, whom The Telegraph is not identifying for legal reasons, boarded a plane from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan to London on Thursday night, escorted by officials from the Foreign Office.

A day earlier they were retrieved from Syria with the help of British special forces.

“They immediately recognised the family members and family home on their arrival,” according to an account provided to a court hearing an order relating to their case.

They had breakfast with their families on Friday and seemed to be upbeat.

“They have settled into the home and appear to be as happy as they possibly could be given the circumstances of their return,” it was heard. 

They were discovered earlier this year alone in a camp for the families of suspected Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) members.

Speaking mostly in Arabic, they remembered little about their family and could not give their surname.

Their parents and siblings were killed earlier this year in air strikes on the last of Isil’s territory in eastern Syria.

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The repatriation marked the first by the Government of British nationals out of the war-torn country and followed pressure by the US and partner forces on the ground. It is not yet clear whether any further evacuations will follow, however, dozens of British women and their children remain stranded in camps across Kurdish-held north-east Syria.

Speaking during a campaign stop in Workshop, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to indicate that he was open to more repatriations, where possible. 

"I think the situation in Syria is very difficult and very dangerous and I think it has been a great success that some orphaned children have been brought back," he said.

"But I think it would be over-optimistic frankly to say that we could do it in every single case – the military, logistical difficulties involved are very considerable but what I’ve said is that where the Government can help then it should help."

The women been held with their children in the camps for months, and in some cases, years without charge. The mothers, who are in the custody of Western-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), stand accused of travelling to the war-torn country to join Isil.

The SDF has refused to try them, while the UK Government is blocking their return, making it unclear whether they will ever have their day in court. They exist in limbo in al-Hol camp, which is home to some 68,000 women and children, and nearby Roj camp, which is home to around to around 4,000.

One British woman, Naseema Begum from east London, whom the Telegraph spoke to during a recent visit to Roj camp, said she had been there since 2017. Others, including Bethnal Green schoolgirl Shamima Begum, since February. The majority arrived earlier this year after escaping from Isil’s final pocket of Baghuz.

Aid agencies with access to the camps say they are no place for children. In summer, temperatures can reach 50 degrees, in winter into the minuses. The hastily built tents barely protect them from the wind and rain.

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Aside from the physical hardships, the children in the camps continue to be exposed to Isil’s violent ideology.

 

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