The orphans of ISIS parents are trapped in legal limbo

13-year-old Abdullah's story is one of a child's preventable abandonment in today's Syria

Orphaned by ISIS London boy wants to return home from Syria. Luke Pierce for The National
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Yesterday, The National reported the story of 13-year-old Abdullah, an orphan stranded in a Syrian camp for the children of ISIS parents. His mother and two of his siblings were killed in an air strike. Another sister was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. His older brother was shot dead fighting for the terrorist group. His father, who did not travel to Syria with his family, is presumed dead. Abdullah was born in Pakistan, but spoke at length about his desire to return to London, where he spent most of his childhood before being moved to Syria when he was seven years old.

Two years after ISIS fell in its last-remaining stronghold, the Syrian town of Baghouz, its poisonous legacy still traps innocent children like Abdullah. Ultimate responsibility for their suffering lies at the feet of the parents who chose to join a terrorist outfit and drag their children into a hellish existence. Their continued limbo, however, is an ongoing failure of the nations who refuse to take responsibility for those who have been caught out in a conflict with global dimensions.

FILE PHOTO: Damaged cars and buildings are seen in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh/File Photo
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Britain must end the current trickle of repatriations it undertakes and decisively rescue all of its vulnerable children

If recent precedents are anything to go by, Abdullah’s prospects for appealing to the UK, the country he considers home, for repatriation could be difficult. London has a shaky record when it comes to repatriating children from ISIS camps. The extent the government was willing to bend and redefine its obligations under international law, to put it generously, emerged when British ISIS recruit Shamima Begum was discovered in a refugee camp in northern Syria, having joined the group when she was just 15. Begum, naive and seemingly unrepentant, did not win much sympathy among her compatriots. A poll carried out at the time indicated that 78 per cent in the UK supported the government's controversial decision to revoke her citizenship, despite being born in the UK.

Regardless of public opinion, however, the case for bringing her back is strong. She joined ISIS as a minor – there are indications that she was groomed into doing so – and has since endured the trauma of losing three babies. The case for rescuing children like Abdullah – with or without British citizenship – who were taken to Syria involuntarily, is unambiguous.

Britain must end the current trickle of repatriations it undertakes and decisively rescue all of its vulnerable children. Forming populist policies builds only fickle support for Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government, normalising illegality in the process and undermining the UK's image as a centre of law and liberty. A country wringing its hand over an issue as pressing as bringing children home from warzones does not project an image of a strong and principled player on the global stage, a central ambition of Brexit.

Children like Abdullah cannot remain in this dangerous limbo. Decisive action must be taken to rehabilitate children who ended up in these dire circumstances due to the criminal decisions of their parents.

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