Officials say they won’t allow the children to be reunited with family in the UK unless their mother joins them
Original article, by Dan Sabbagh, The Guardian, January 15, 2020
Syrian-Kurdish authorities responsible for Islamic State refugee camps are likely to deny any UK request to repatriate four British children if the condition imposed to allow their return is that their mother cannot return with them.
British government sources have said that they were willing to consider allowing Mehak Aslam’s four young daughters to return to the UK to live with Aslam’s parents, as long as she and her husband Shahan Choudhury remain in Syria.
The couple left the UK to live under the Isis caliphate in the middle of the decade and had five children, one of whom died. Both have had their British citizenship stripped by the Home Office, which believes they pose a potential security risk.
But the Syrian-Kurdish authorities, responsible for the camp where Aslam and her children are, have said many governments have made similar requests – and that they had always been rejected as it would involve separating families.
A source close to the Syrian-Kurdish administration said: “Abdulkarim Omar, the co-chairman of the bureau of external affairs for the Kurdish administration of north and east Syria, has always said the administration’s position has always been that we will not allow children to be separated from their parents.”
In November, a small number of orphans were repatriated to the UK, a decision justified at the time by foreign secretary, Dominic Raab. “Innocent, orphaned children should never have been subjected to the horrors of war,” he said.
That had been deemed to be a one-off, partly because of the differences over family separation – and the Home Office indicated that they did not expect any of the other 60 British children in Syrian refugee camps to be allowed to come to the UK.
But Aslam’s parents want their grandchildren to be allowed to return to the UK and have urged their daughter to give them up, although it is not clear that this would satisfy the Syrian Kurds. Speaking to ITV News earlier this week, her father Mohammed Aslam said: “That’s a hard reality but at least they’ll be safe here – at least they’ll be safe and secure.”
In the interview, Mohammed Aslam expressed his sadness that one of his grandchildren had already died in an explosion in the country. “She passed away – I can never forgive them [her parents] for that. They wanted to take this step for themselves – that’s fine, that’s their problem. Why involve the kids in this?”
Aslam was captured early last year, along with her four daughters as Isis made its last stand in the town of Baghuz in eastern Syria. Last June, Choudhury gave an interview in which he said he and his wife left the UK with the intention of helping Muslims in refugee camps who had been fleeing war in Syria.
Choudhury said that he was not a fighter for the terror group, which lost the last of its territory in April last year, but said he had worked in public services for Isis, and his that last job was working as a gravedigger. “Somebody has to bury the dead people, who’s going to do that? There were dead bodies everywhere,” he said.
The Home Office and the Foreign Office said they did not comment on specific cases. A Foreign Office spokesperson added: “Every request for consular assistance is considered on a case by case basis. Decisions take into account all relevant considerations including nationality, national security and feasibility.”
Orlaith Minogue, from Save the Children, said that while she could not comment on the detail of the case, the charity did not support the separation of families.
“Wherever possible, we urge that children be repatriated along with their mothers to retain family unity and avoid further distress,” she said, adding that further decisions about what happens next should take place in the UK.