‘Small number’ of children taken back to Britain from Syria

Home Office minister confirms the returns as Shamima Begum case sparks greater interest

TOPSHOT - Civilians evacuated from the Islamic State (IS) group's embattled holdout of Baghouz wait at a screening area held by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on March 5, 2019. More than 7000 people, mostly women and children, have fled the shrinking pocket over the past days, as US-backed forces press ahead with an offensive to crush holdout jihadists. / AFP / Bulent KILIC
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A “small number” of children have returned to the UK through third countries in the past year, a British minister has said.

Questions about ISIS returnees and their children have increased since Shamima Begum, the wife of an ISIS fighter, was stripped of her citizenship by the UK.

Ms Begum later gave birth to a boy in a refugee camp in Syria, who died three weeks later of pneumonia.

“We can confirm that in the past 12 months there have been a small number of British children who have left Syria and returned to the UK via third countries,” said Home Office Minister Baroness Williams, responding to a written parliamentary question.

Two other British women living in Syria have also been stripped of their citizenship. Both have young children.

The Home Office said up to 900 people might have travelled to Syria from the UK, many of whom had children there.

Forty per cent of those who left have returned and the Home Office says a “significant proportion” of them are not considered a security concern.

Ms Begum’s family have reportedly challenged the rescinding of her citizenship amid criticism of Home Secretary Sajid Javid over the death of her baby, who was a British citizen.

“We will not put British officials' lives at risk to assist those who have left the UK to join a proscribed terrorist organisation," Ms Williams said.

“If a British child who has been in Syria is able to seek consular assistance outside of Syria, then we would work with local and UK authorities to facilitate their return if requested.”

She warned against travel to Syria, saying there was no consular presence in the country to help British citizens.

"Our support will be tailored to the needs of each individual child,” the Home Office said.

"Local authorities and the police can use existing safeguarding powers to protect returning children, support their welfare and reintegration back in to UK society, and minimise any threat they could pose within schools and to their local community."