Despite the announcement from the UK foreign secretary on Thursday that a small number of orphans who had been caught up in the conflict with Islamic State had been brought home, no other British children are expected to be repatriated from Syria in the foreseeable future.
Home Office officials view the repatriation of the children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, as highly exceptional – and there is unhappiness with the Foreign Office for potentially opening the door to more Islamic State returnees.
“We feel there are legitimate security concerns here,” a Home Office source said. “Returnees, even children, are a security risk – our view is that repatriations can only be looked at on a case by case basis.”
Boris Johnson said: “I think the situation in Syria is very difficult and very dangerous and I think it has been a great success that some orphaned children has been brought back.
“But I think it would be over-optimistic to say that we could do it in every single case – the military, logistical difficulties involved are very considerable but what I’ve said is that where the government can help then it should help.”
Both the home secretary, Priti Patel, and her predecessor, Sajid Javid, have taken a hard line over whether to allow the last of the men, women and children who lived under Isis to return home, after the collapse of its “caliphate” in March.
The orphans’ repatriation has been pushed within government by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab. In a short statement on Thursday night he refused to reiterate the Home Office line that potential returnees would be assessed on a “case by case basis” and instead said bringing back the children was “the right thing to do”.
No further repatriation cases are understood to be in the pipeline, despite calls from Save the Children for the UK government to bring back all British children in Syria, whose number it estimates to be about 60.
Refugee children – there are more than 1,000 – are housed in large, insanitary camps, many of which are effectively in the control of the women also being held in them. They are some of the last people to have left Isis’s former Syrian territories as US air power and Kurdish-led ground forces closed in on them. (Source: The Guardian)