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UK urged to repatriate family with Covid from camp on Syria-Iraq border

·3-min read

Pleas are being made for the repatriation of a British family who have contracted Covid-19 in a detention camp on the Syria-Iraq border.

They include a toddler with respiratory problems and an adult with asthma, according to campaigners, who say members of the family were trafficked into Isis-held territory.

The charity Reprieve said the family were unable to access adequate care and faced a “real risk of life-threatening illness, and possibly death”.

The family have reported serious symptoms including fever, difficulty breathing, coughing, weakness and vision problems, according to a letter by Reprieve, which quoted medical experts including a paediatrician expressing grave concerns.

“This is a family which is very likely to include victims of trafficking and they have been in this camp for a few years now,” said Maya Foa, the executive director of Reprieve. “They all have roots in the UK. They are British and I have spent time with them in the camp. As well as the imperative to bring them back to receive treatment, surely the British government should also now be looking to investigate trafficking, and they would be happy to speak to the authorities.”

A cross-party group of MPs are preparing to convene an inquiry as part of attempts to pressure the government into helping Britons detained in camps after fleeing Isis-held territory.

The Conservative peer Sayeeda Warsi, backed Reprieve’s calls for the family’s repatriation, saying women who had been trafficked from Britain were being treated by the government as “perpetrators, not victims”.

“I would absolutely make the case on compassionate grounds for why British nationals should not be left in the middle of a pandemic stateless in the middle of a desert,” she said.

“But it’s also just an appalling denial by us as a country in terms of how all of these women and children are being treated. We cannot hold ourselves up as a bastion for our policy against trafficking, modern-day slavery and sexual violence in conflict – which I worked closely on with [the former foreign secretary] William Hague in government – and then simply close our eyes when it comes to our own citizens being subjected to the very actions that we are campaigning against.”

Of the estimated 800 British nationals who travelled to Isis territories in Syria and Iraq, investigations by Reprieve suggest no more than 25 British adults, mostly women, and 34 British children remain in the region.

The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell linked the need to repatriate them to domestic security concerns. He said: “There is a danger that if these people are left stranded in an ungoverned space, they could be prey to terrorists and weaponised against us, which is why it’s so important to agree with the arguments which the Americans have made about bringing them back to their country of origin.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said every request for consular assistance was considered on a case-by-case basis.

“Our priority is to ensure the safety and security of the UK. Those who remain in Syria include dangerous individuals who chose to stay to fight or otherwise support a group that committed atrocious crimes including butchering and beheading innocent civilians,” they said. “Where we become aware of British unaccompanied or orphaned children, or if British children are able to seek consular assistance, we will work to facilitate their return, subject to national security concerns.”

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