UK Government rescues British orphans of Isil fighters from Syria in first repatriation mission

British orphaned children of Islamic State fighters have been rescued from Syria, in the first evacuation by the UK Government of nationals stranded in the war-torn country following the fall of the “caliphate”.

The children were taken out earlier this week and are due to be repatriated in the coming days, it is understood.

The children, who were discovered in a camp for the relatives of Isil members last month, lost their parents and older siblings in air strikes on the last patch of the jihadists’ territory, which fell to Kurdish led-forces in March.

The children, who now speak Arabic, remember little of their lives before they left their home in the UK five years ago.

The Telegraph is not revealing their identity for security reasons.

“These innocent, orphaned, children should never have been subjected to the horrors of war,” Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary, said on Thursday. “We have facilitated their return home, because it was the right thing to do. Now they must be allowed the privacy and given the support to return to a normal life.”

The repatriation followed a visit by Martin Longden, UK Special Representative for Syria, to the Kurdish-held north-east.

Britain had until now refused the return of its nationals from Syria and in some cases revoked their citizenship in an attempt to thwart extradition, citing national security concerns.

The Government has come under pressure from the US, which has urged other members of the international coalition against Isil to take responsibility for its citizens and relieve the burden on allied forces.

There are at least seven British men, 25 British women and more than 60 of their children being held by Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in prisons and camps around north-east Syria.

It is unclear whether any more Britons will be repatriated, but the Telegraph has been told the Government would likely first assess the cases of three women who have not had their citizenship revoked and their 10 children. 

More than three-quarters of the British children being held in SDF camps are under the age of five and were likely born in the so-called caliphate, leaving them without documentation.

One Western diplomat told the paper that it did not think there would be a full evacuation, saying such a move would be “political suicide”.

The Government has reportedly been divided on how to manage the repatriation of the children of Isil members, with Priti Patel, Home Secretary, and Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary, citing security concerns. 

All three are said to have agreed on the return of the orphans but Raab wants a more proactive approach which the two other oppose.

The UK has taken the strongest line on Isil returnees than any other country in the coalition. 

The Government has made clear it will try to prosecute all repatriated fighters, but it is notoriously difficult to find evidence of terrorist acts committed in unstable conflict zones.

Britain has only managed to successfully prosecute a small number of the roughly 450 Britons who returned home after travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight Isil. 

Where there has not been enough evidence for suspected fighters to be charged, they have been enrolled in the Home Office’s Desistance and Disengagement Programme — a branch of the controversial Prevent scheme to deradicalise potential extremists.

Save the Children welcomed the news, but urged the Government to bring home the remaining children still trapped stranded in Syria

“Today the UK government is transforming the lives of these innocent children who have been through terrible things that are far beyond their control,” said Alison Griffin, head of Humanitarian Campaigns at Save the Children. “They will now have the precious chance to recover, have happy childhoods and live full lives. We should be proud of everyone who has worked to make this happen.

"There are still as many as 60 British children that remain stranded in appalling conditions and Syria’s harsh winter will soon begin to bite. All are as innocent as those rescued today and our very real fear is that they won’t all survive to see the spring. They must all be brought home before it is too late.”

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