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‘Small number’ of British children have returned to UK after leaving Syria

The disclosure comes after the death of Shamima Begum’s newborn baby.

A Home Office minister confirmed that a small number of British children have left Syria and returned to the UK via third countries in the last 12 months (Yui Mok/PA)
A Home Office minister confirmed that a small number of British children have left Syria and returned to the UK via third countries in the last 12 months (Yui Mok/PA)

A “small number” of British children have left Syria and returned to the UK via other countries in the last year, it has emerged.

The disclosure comes after the death of Shamima Begum’s newborn baby prompted questions over the Government’s policy on repatriating youngsters born in or taken to the war-torn country.

Responding 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 noted that the Government does not have a consular presence in Syria, and advises against all travel to the country.

Baroness Williams added: “We will not put British officials’ lives at risk to assist those who have left the UK to join a proscribed terrorist organisation.

“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.”

The issue came under the spotlight earlier this year after Ms Begum, who left east London to join Islamic State in 2015, declared from a Syrian refugee camp that she wished to come home.

But she was stripped of her British citizenship by Home Secretary Sajid Javid in an effort to block her return.

Ms Begum later gave birth to a baby boy, who died aged less than three weeks. The child was a British citizen, regardless of his mother’s status.

After facing criticism in the wake of the death, Mr Javid insisted the Government was unable to provide support to British nationals in Syria as there is no consular presence there.

The Home Secretary has also staunchly defended the decision to revoke Ms Begum’s citizenship.

Our support will be tailored to the needs of each individual child. Home Office

It was reported last month that her family have begun legal proceedings to challenge the move.

The case prompted fresh debate over the approach to those returning or seeking to return from Syria.

In February, Mr Javid suggested that hundreds of children may have been born to “foreign fighters”.

He said females account for a significant proportion of around 900 individuals who left the UK to travel to territory held by extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Some may have taken their offspring with them, he said, while others may have had children whilst overseas.

The 900 figure relates to the estimated number of people “of national security concern” who travelled from the UK to engage with the conflict in Syria.

Of those, approximately 20% have been killed overseas, while around 40% have returned to the UK.

A “significant proportion” of returnees are assessed as no longer being of a security concern, according to the Home Office.

The Government has provided funding to assist local authorities and NHS trusts to carry out mental health and emotional wellbeing assessments of all British children returning from the conflict in Syria.

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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