UK rescue operation to repatriate ISIS children blocked by ministers

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and others blocked plans to extradite unaccompanied minors from Syria over security concerns

A boy carries bread on his head at al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria April 2, 2019. Picture taken April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

Several British ministers intervened to block a recent rescue operation to return unaccompanied children born to ISIS fighters back to the UK, citing security concerns.

The Observer reported that during National Security Council meetings and surrounding discussions in October, the British Home Secretary Priti Patel and several other ministers overruled plans to bring the children back from north-east Syria.

Ms Patel, with the backing of Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Chancellor Sajid Javid, forced at the last minute the abandonment of the extraction because it was believed the children posted a security risk.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was among those who argued strongly the children should return to the UK.

Reports emerged in October that 60 British minors, including three orphans, had been identified for possible extraction. A safe route for their exit from north-east Syria following a ceasefire agreed to by Turkish and Kurdish through Iraqi Kurdistan had been agreed. From Erbil they were to be flown directly to the United Kingdom.

A number of local councils in the UK had offered a care package and reintegration measures so that the children were properly cared for.

Save the Children, one of the NGOs still operating in war-torn north-east Syria has accused the UK government of playing political games with children’s lives and called the abandonment of the plans “unacceptable”.

“This is purely political. It’s a case of having ownership at a sensitive time in an election period over an issue that does not have 100 per cent public sentiment behind it, but without that these people will live in limbo with all the consequences that come with it,” Save the Children’s  head of conflict advocacy said.

In October the European nations of Belgium, France and Germany also said they were looking to use the opportunity offered by a cessation of fighting in northern Syria to repatriate the families of former ISIS fighters from Al Roj and Al Hol camps, which remain beyond the frontline between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

US officials have estimated some 10,000 ISIS prisoners remain detained in camps in north-eastern Syria. Some 2,000 of those are believed to be foreign fighters.

The window to retrieve the families of ISIS fighters is rapidly closing, amid concerns the regime of Bashar Al-Assad may be preparing to take control of the ISIS detention camps.

Britain now appears to have one of the most aggressive policies towards its nationals and former nationals who fought with ISIS.

On Thursday, Turkey sent back a 26-year–old man who was arrested at Heathrow. He is among eight suspects deported from Turkey as Ankara attempts to push other nations to repatriate foreign ISIS suspects.