New report shows “tiny number” of UK families detained in Syria

October 28, 2020

Meta image of children in Syrian detention camp.

Only a handful of British families are now detained in North East Syria, a new report shows, undermining the UK Government’s position that these families cannot be brought back to the UK.

Government sources implied last year that over 300 British nationals might still be imprisoned in North East Syria: the Foreign Office had suggested the UK will struggle to monitor and prosecute this group.

The real number now appears to be much lower, according to new research published by the Egmont Institute, drawing on data from Reprieve. The research reports that there are just 24 British adults and 35 British children still detained in the region.

The comparatively tiny number of British families detained in North East Syria casts further doubt on the Government’s argument that repatriations are not possible, especially as the Government has already flown a number of British children from Syria to the UK.

The numbers in today’s report suggest it would be feasible for the Government to repatriate these families to the UK, and to prosecute adult family members wherever there are charges to answer.

The report follows calls by senior MPs for the Government to change its position on repatriating UK nationals, including the Chairs of Parliament’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, Tobias Ellwood and Tom Tugendhat, and the former Cabinet Ministers David Davis and Andrew Mitchell.

Earlier this week, a network of families who have loved ones detained in North East Syria called on their respective governments to initiate “an immediate repatriation of all European nationals”.

This international network, Families for Repatriation International (FRI), has representatives from all over the world, including Canada, Germany and France. Over 200 academics signed on to their open letter calling for the return of families from North East Syria and denouncing the use of family separations and citizenship deprivations by Western governments.

Reprieve’s Director Maya Foa said:

“We are talking here about a tiny number of British families. The British Government is more than capable of repatriating these people to the UK, and the British justice system is perfectly well placed to prosecute the adult family members wherever there are charges to answer.

“If the UK continues to do nothing these families will either be transferred to Iraq or Assad-controlled Syria, where they will face torture, disappearance or death, or otherwise be lost track of altogether. This serves neither our national security interests or our core human rights principles.”