UK

Syria: 'Small number' of children return to UK

A woman walks with her child at a camp in north-eastern Syria Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Around 900 people are thought to have travelled from the UK to Syria since the conflict began

A "small number" of British children have left Syria and returned to the UK via other countries in the last year, the government has said.

But British officials were not involved in helping them leave IS territory.

British women who went to Syria to join the group may have given birth there or taken children with them, according to Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

Confirmation that children have returned comes after IS bride Shamima Begum's baby died in a Syrian camp.

The death raised questions over the government's policy on repatriating the children of British IS fighters.

In response to a written parliamentary question, Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said: "We can confirm that in the last 12 months there have been a small number of British children who have left Syria and returned to the UK via third countries."

She said the UK did not have a consulate in Syria and the government advised against travelling to the country.

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

"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."

Earlier this year, Ms Begum - who left London aged 15 to join Islamic State in 2015 - gave media interviews from a Syrian refugee camp in which she said she wanted to return home.

But she was stripped of her British citizenship by the home secretary in an effort to stop her returning to the UK, who said those who left to join IS were "full of hate for our country".

Ms Begum gave birth to a baby boy in the camp, who was considered a British citizen, but he died three weeks later of pneumonia.

The government was criticised over the death, but Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it would have been too dangerous to rescue the baby from the camp.

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Media caption"I got tricked and I was hoping someone would have sympathy with me"

The home secretary defended his decision to revoke Ms Begum's citizenship, saying the power was only used in "extreme circumstances where conducive to the public good".

It also emerged in March that the UK had stripped British citizenship from two more women living in Syrian refugee camps with young children.

Mr Javid has previously indicated hundreds of children may have been born to so-called foreign fighters.

Women make up a significant proportion of around 900 people who have travelled from the UK to join the conflict in Syria, according to the home secretary.

Some 20% of those are believed to have been killed overseas, while around 40% have returned to the UK.

Commenting on Baroness Williams's statement, the Home Office said: "Our support will be tailored to the needs of each individual child.

"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."

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