News of the Syrian conflict rears its head in the media again following Trump’s reckless withdrawal of troops and Turkey’s attack on the Kurds. It might seem to be easy for us in the UK to think that this is something no longer relevant to us. ISIS has been almost completely defeated, despite the recent prison breaks, and UK forces will withdraw along with the US military. Shouldn’t the government focus on other issues now, like Brexit or the climate crisis?
However, to turn our backs on Syria at this moment would be to ignore the traumatic residue that the eight year conflict has wreaked not only on Syrian nationals, but also British citizens. As US troops leave and the anti-ISIS SDF force is breaking down, there have already been multiple “breakouts” from prison camps filled with affiliates of ISIS fighters, many of whom are of British origin.
The most tragic of these stories is of the 27 orphans rescued by the UN in a prison camp, living in unhygienic and unsafe conditions. Most of them have stories of living in the midst of a war zone for years. Conflict has been their childhood, indoctrinated into an organisation that now exists in name only, and brought into a war by idealogue parents who are now dead. Last week the BBC discovered British orphans, expected to be the first of many, whose parents brought them to Syria five years ago, and died whilst fighting.
The BBC has contacted the UK government in relation to their situation. However we are yet to hear a statement or policy on British children in Syria. These children, who have already been through a civil war, are now at great risk of further harm, with the region already so unstable and Turkish incursions causing border skirmishes. The UK Government has full responsibility to bring these orphans, and any more that may surface, back to the UK.
Having already decided to let brainwashed fighters and teenage “jihadi brides” rot in Syrian and Turkish prisons rather than bringing them home to face the British courts, I believe that the least the government can do is to ensure that their children do not follow the same fate.
Although this would primarily be the humanitarian, and simply decent, action to take, sadly empathy and kindness seem to be playing little role in contemporary global politics. It even seems unfair that only so few children should be rescued from the carnage of a country torn apart by violence and fundamentalism. But the best we can hope for is that Britain at least takes its own nationals back. The government should also be reminded of the practical side, seeing as that is often the most convincing for politicians.
Abandoning citizens in a warzone is not only cruel; the future resentment this would cause can only have a negative effect on the UK.
Though returning these orphans would indeed be a considerable operation, involving attempts to find relatives back in the UK, as well as the considerable social work involved; having said this, leaving them in Syria should simply not be considered a viable option.
Image: DFID via Wikipedia