More than 60 British children remain trapped in north-east Syria after fleeing territory formerly held by ISIS, Save the Children said on Monday.
The number is around double previous estimates reported by the media, after the charity said it had rescued 24 children from a camp that came under shelling during Turkey’s military incursion.
Many of the children are said to be younger than five years old and believed to have been born to British parents suspected of joining ISIS.
Older children who lived under the extremist group have witnessed appalling acts of brutality, including beheadings, and been left with physical injuries and psychological needs from years of conflict and brutal repression, the charity said.
Save the Children on Monday called for the children to be repatriated, encouraging visitors to its website to write to UK home secretary Priti Patel.
“Children in Syria who have fled ISIS-held areas are innocent,” said Alison Griffin, Save the Children’s Head of Conflict and Humanitarian Campaigns.
“Their short lives have been full of violence and fear but with the right care they can bounce back, recover and amaze us. They deserve that chance, no matter what they’ve been dragged into by the decisions of adults,” she added.
The repatriation of foreign fighters and their children has been a primary concern for European governments in the wake of Turkey’s military intervention in north-east Syria.
On Sunday, a top French anti-terror investigator warned that the government’s refusal to take back ISIS fighters from Syria could fuel a new extremist recruitment drive on home soil.
David De Pas, coordinator of France's 12 anti-terrorism examining magistrates, said that it would be "better to know that these people are in the care of the judiciary" in France "than let them roam free".
Turkey's offensive against Kurdish forces in north-east Syria has sparked fears that some of the 12,000 ISIS members, including thousands of foreigners, being held in Syrian Kurdish prisons could escape
In response to the widely publicised case of three British orphans, among the two-dozen rescued last week by Save the Children, the UK home office said the government’s “ultimate priority must be to protect its citizens”.
“The Foreign Secretary has said he wants to ensure ‘innocents are not caught in the crossfire’. To play his part to achieve that, he needs to act now while there’s still a window of opportunity and bring all the UK’s children home,” Ms Griffin said.
“Children whose parents are alive are just as innocent as those who have been orphaned. All have been put through unimaginable horrors.” She added.
On Sunday, UK government sources revealed they are working with aid agencies in Syria to bring back the children left stranded in the country after being born to ISIS members.
The UK, Germany, Belgium and France are all reportedly looking to use the relative safety offered by the recently enacted ceasefire to repatriate women and children linked with the terror group.