Children should be brought back from Syria as matter of urgency – Tory MP
Families of British fighters for so-called Islamic State should be brought back to the UK and then put under surveillance if there is evidence that they pose a threat, a Tory MP said.
Crispin Blunt was part of a cross-party delegation that travelled to Syria and visited the Al-Hawl camp, where they were told there are 16 British families.
The former minister said bringing British citizens back to the UK is “part of the burden we have to bear”, adding that children should be prioritised.
The delegation, which made the four-day visit to north-eastern Syria last month, said British citizens are among prisoners who may have been involved in crimes that have been committed across the region over the past eight years.
In a statement, they said the Syrian Defence Force (SDF) is “holding the ring on potentially 100,000 dangerously radicalised people who are a serious potential future global terrorist threat”.
They added that this is “particularly acute” for the UK, given the security position and need to counter ideology “sympathetic to violent Islamist based extremism” in the UK.
“The delegation is clear that Britain should provide immediate practical support in administrating justice,” the statement said.
“This can include legal expertise, financial support for the reconstruction and development of local legal capabilities and ensuring that, when convicted, British war criminals do their time in the UK. The challenge is substantial and immediate.
“The time bomb of captured Isis fighters and radicalised families is beyond the capacity of north-east Syria to address. Failure to prioritise this would be international security negligence of the first order.
“The UK should also take responsibility for the de-radicalising and social care of the families of British Islamic State soldiers who are now living in legal limbo and desperate privation in camps in North East Syria.
“These conditions are perfect for reinforcing radicalisation not addressing it,” the delegation from both Houses of Parliament under the auspices of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rojava (North Eastern Syria) said.
Earlier this week, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it may not be possible to convict IS fighters and their families who fled Britain for Syria even if they were brought back.
But Mr Blunt told the PA news agency: “It may not be possible to convict them, but it is possible to surveil them if we believe, having interviewed them, that they remain a threat.”
He added: “If the state suspects, and has evidence to suspect, that they are a threat, then you can seek orders from a judge in order to carry out surveillance on them.”
Asked what he would say to those in the UK who may be concerned about the threat such people may pose, Mr Blunt said: “It’s part of the burden we have to bear.”
He said it is a burden the UK must carry in order to help the administration in north-east Syria, which, he said, lacks the necessary resources.
He added that if the British citizens in question are a threat, then they will be a threat no matter where they are, and it is better for UK authorities to have some control rather than no control.
Mr Blunt said bringing children back should be a priority, adding: “Children should be first on the list and it’s urgent, because the longer they’re there the more traumatised they’re going to be and the more challenges they’re going to present in the future.”
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, Mr Wallace warned that former jihadis could end up “living next door” as the evidence required for prosecution would belong to another country.
“Under international law I can’t just swoop into a country and grab someone and take them out unless it’s done under extradition.
“We don’t have an extradition treaty with the Syrian regime, not surprisingly, and therefore it’s not as straightforward as just flying into those countries and picking people up,” he said.
His comments came after a report in the Sun said that up to 600 IS fighters and their family members are in line to return to Britain from refugee camps in Syria – amid a Cabinet split over the issue.