British children are sitting in refugee camps, government must assess their best interests

When passing the legislation to deprive people of their citizenship, Parliament left a lacuna for British children in refugee camps after the end of the fighting against IS, says Baroness Berridge.

Pink would be the bedroom colour of a nine-year old British child, Sara who sits dreaming of Britain, whilst in an informal refugee camp in North Eastern Syria.

No that is not a typo, there are British children sitting in refugee camps after the end of the fighting against IS.

Unlike baby Jaffa, who died three weeks after being born to Shimina Begum, Sara was born in the UK and was taken by her parents when she was 5 to join Islamic State. She wants to come home.

Of course, she did not consent to going, did not join IS and it is incredible to think she could pose any security risk to the UK. Her father was killed and it is not known if her mother has had her citizenship revoked.

Although Sara is British, it seems there is currently no assessment of her needs, no UNHCR or NGO requested to see how she is doing and no legal process, no CAFCASS officer, no exception exercise of the wardship jurisdiction to assess her best interests.

Experienced QCs have kindly offered their services to represent such British Children pro bono but there seem to be no legal cases because there is this no legal process possible. Parliament left a lacuna for these children, when passing the legislation to deprive people of their citizenship.

Thank goodness for journalists, otherwise we might not even know Sara exists.

Family courts

Britain is known and respected internationally for the jurisdiction of our family courts and the “best interests of the child” test in respect of any case involving children.

Day in, day out the family courts order that parental responsibility is given to local authorities when parents pose a risk to their children.

This process, this test should be being applied to Sara and, regardless of the security risk posed by her mum, her case should be considered separately from any action that the Home Secretary takes or has taken concerning her mum.

This is how children should be seen, not as chattels of their parents but as human beings who interests need to be considered carefully.

HMG has said in the Lords “However, if that child is not in this country and is, for example, in Syria, they are—it is sad to say—beyond our help.”

But If Tara had been taken abroad and be at risk of FGM or Forced Marriage or if her parents were involved in a custody battle and one of them took her abroad without consent, the courts would be seeking to get her home. But Tara’s parents put her at risk by taking her to join IS and so their sins are currently being visited on their British children, like Sara.

Of course, the family courts might decide Sara is best off with mum or that it is not safe to get her, but Sara would know that Britain cares about her and has considered her best interests. I hope HMG has sorted out a process to consider British refugee children and in the mean time I can only hope that she receives some of the UK funded aid sent to Syria. How pitifully ironic.

Published in PoliticsHome 10 April 2019

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