First British mother repatriated to UK from camp in Syria

Rights group says she and her child have suffered extreme trauma

The Al Hol camp in north-east Syria. AFP
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A British mother and child have been repatriated to Britain from a detention camp in Syria, the UK government has said.

It is understood to be the first time any Briton has been sent home from the detention camps in north-east Syria which were built in the aftermath of the war against ISIS.

The woman and her child have not been identified but Reprieve, a human rights organisation, said the woman was a “victim of trafficking”.

Jonathan Hargreaves, the UK’s special representative for Syria, announced the repatriation on Twitter without saying who they were.

“UK officials have facilitated the repatriation of two British nationals from Syria. In line with long-standing policy we consider each request for consular assistance in Syria on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations including national security,” he said.

Reprieve welcomed the move, said it was concerned for the woman’s safety, and urged the UK to repatriate more Britons from the camps.

“We welcome the government’s decision to repatriate this British woman and her child,” said director Maya Foa.

“This woman was a victim of trafficking, taken to Syria by a male relative when she was a young girl. She and her child have suffered extreme trauma and we ask that their identities and privacy be protected.

“Our research shows that the majority of the British women being held in prison camps in north-east Syria were trafficked by ISIS for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Rather than reckon with their cases, the government has chosen to abandon them in life-threatening conditions.

“The UK should follow the example of allies including the US, France, Germany and the Netherlands and repatriate all British families from unlawful detention.”

Reprieve says its research has shown most of the women in Syrian detention camps are victims of trafficking, often transported to Syria as children or coerced into travelling to Syria.

The organisation is pressing UK authorities to set up repatriation programmes similar to those of western allies, including the US, France and Germany.

Many British families are being detained indefinitely without charge.

The most well known is Shamima Begum who left her home in East London for Syria when she was 15.

She travelled to Syria in 2015 with Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, fellow pupils at Bethnal Green Academy.

When she was found in a Syrian refugee camp in 2019, she told The Times she had “no regrets”. Since then, she has expressed regret, however, and said she was groomed.

Updated: October 13, 2022, 2:20 PM