David Davis MP writes in The Sunday Times discussing why we should bring British children in Syria back to the UK.
As published in The Sunday Times:
Innocents abandoned today will become our foes tomorrow
When the British charity worker arrived in the tent, the first child he saw was a boy of around four who was sitting in the corner, facing the wall, refusing to speak to or play with other children. He had arrived in the refugee camp alone. Nobody knew whether he had stopped speaking due to trauma or had never learnt to talk.
The tent was in the foreign annexe of the al-Hol camp in northeast Syria. The annexe holds about 10,000 women and children from at least 50 countries. The little boy was by no means the worst case.
Take 16-year-old Seva, who was 11 when she was taken to Syria with her 14-year-old sister. After being separated from their father they were both “married” to much older Isis fighters. In her words, she was “raped, forced to marry, and saw my father beheaded”. Her sister now has a four-year-old boy.
The Save the Children worker that told me these stories said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen conditions as appalling and undignified. There are reports of a four-year-old boy drowning in a faecal pit and a seven-year-old burning to death after his tent was set alight.”
Last week it was confirmed that more than 60 of the children in the al-Hol and Roj camps are British. Earlier this month our government committed to bringing home unaccompanied British minors and orphans. That would have meant only three or four children returning to the UK. We must go further.
Most of the British children are in camps with their mothers, some of whom were children themselves when they were groomed to travel to Syria. There is no excuse whatsoever to abandon these children. Indeed they are the legal responsibility of the British state.
Many have been born in the region to British parents who made the grotesquely misguided and irresponsible decision to go to Syria.
The children should not be punished for their parents’ mistakes. They have lived through some of the most brutal and inhumane fighting in modern times. Some have witnessed appalling acts of brutality. They will have major psychological burdens.
The safest way to handle these youngsters is for them to be reintegrated into British society. This task is well within our capability. More than 260 men, women and children have returned from Syria and Iraq since the beginning of the conflict. The vast majority have been assessed as no longer a national security concern and have been provided with appropriate treatment allowing them to live a normal life in the UK.
The stance taken by the government has been woefully inadequate. It suggested that to receive assistance from the UK, families would have to present themselves to a consulate or embassy. But the reality is that the UK has no diplomatic presence in Syria.
Other countries have already repatriated their nationals. The UK is risking being a shameful anomaly on the international stage. The time to act is now.
Were we to do nothing, we would see these children again. But it would not be as functioning members of society. It would be as our enemy on the battlefields of the future.
We must not allow that to happen. We must bring those British children home.