Orphan whose family were killed after going to Syria to join ISIS, says he wants to return to UK

An orphan whose family was killed after travelling to Syria to join ISIS has said he wants to return to England.

Abdullah, 13, is stranded in a prison for minors in north-east Syria. He has been in camps and prisons since 2019, when Kurdish-led forces launched an attack against Baghouz.

The town, located near the border with Iraq, was the last stand of ISIS, and thousands of people – including fighters and their families – emerged from its limits when the group was officially defeated following the battle’s end in March that year.

Abdullah, who says he is from Londontold The National that he has happy memories of the city, including daily rides to school on a red double-decker bus and trips to McDonald’s.

Although was born in Pakistan and has spent more than half of his life in Syria, he considers London home.

‘I love London more than I love Pakistan,’ he told The National. ‘London is a beautiful country.’

‘I can do what I want there. I have a lot of friends and I can learn football there really fast.

An orphan whose family was killed after travelling to Syria to join ISIS has said he wants to return to England. Abdullah, 13, is stranded in a prison for minors in north-east Syria since. He has been in camps and prisons since 2019, when Kurdish-led forces launched an attack against Baghouz. Pictured: Heavy smoke rises above the town of Baghouz during the Battle of Baghouz [File photo]

An orphan whose family was killed after travelling to Syria to join ISIS has said he wants to return to England. Abdullah, 13, is stranded in a prison for minors in north-east Syria since. He has been in camps and prisons since 2019, when Kurdish-led forces launched an attack against Baghouz. Pictured: Heavy smoke rises above the town of Baghouz during the Battle of Baghouz [File photo]

An orphan whose family was killed after travelling to Syria to join ISIS has said he wants to return to England. Abdullah, 13, is stranded in a prison for minors in north-east Syria since. He has been in camps and prisons since 2019, when Kurdish-led forces launched an attack against Baghouz. Pictured: Heavy smoke rises above the town of Baghouz during the Battle of Baghouz [File photo]

‘In Pakistan, they play cricket. I don’t like cricket. I want to go to London and learn football there.

‘Everything was good there. You have money, we are going to McDonalds, we are playing football and [going to] school,’ he said while recalling supermarkets full of his favourite treats – chocolate and Pringles.

Abdullah expressed worries about remaining in Syria, telling The National he doesn’t learn anything and wants to return to school to learn maths and take part in plays.

‘It’s very very no good. Because in Syria, I don’t learn anything here. And I lost my family because of Syria.

‘There’s nothing. There’s no McDonald’s in this country,’ he said. 

Abdullah spent months living in the Al-Hol refugee camp – just one of more than 22,000 foreign children housed there, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Syrian children are also in the camp.

Many foreign children were brought to Syria by parents who decided to join ISIS and have been left stranded following their deaths.

Abdullah spent months living in the Al-Hol refugee camp (pictured) - just one of more than 22,000 foreign children housed there, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Syrian children are also in the camp [File photo]

Abdullah spent months living in the Al-Hol refugee camp (pictured) - just one of more than 22,000 foreign children housed there, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Syrian children are also in the camp [File photo]

Abdullah spent months living in the Al-Hol refugee camp (pictured) – just one of more than 22,000 foreign children housed there, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Syrian children are also in the camp [File photo]

The camp is run by Kurdish forces to house those who surrendered following the Battle of Baghouz. It is the largest camp for displaced people in Syria and more than 80 per cent of its 62,000 residents are women and children, the UN said in February.

The UN has urged countries to repatriate their citizens, but many have been reluctant to do so amid security concerns and reported difficulties in dealing with groups controlling the area. 

The UK government has largely refused to repatriate British adults who joined ISIS, but has brought back a small number of unaccompanied children.  

Last year, Save the Children said there are more than 60 British children trapped in the camp, many of whom were under five years old.

Alison Griffin, Save the Children’s Head of Conflict and Humanitarian Campaigns, said in October:

‘Children in Syria who have fled ISIS-held areas are innocent. 

‘Their short lives have been full of violence and fear but with the right care they can bounce back, recover and amaze us. 

‘They deserve that chance, no matter what they’ve been dragged into by the decisions of adults.

‘For the British children among them we can and must give them the safety they need by bringing them to be cared for in the UK.’

The UN has urged countries to repatriate their citizens, but many have been reluctant to do so amid security concerns and reported difficulties in dealing with groups controlling the area. Pictured: A fighter from the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces gives bread to children near the town of Baghouz during the battle

The UN has urged countries to repatriate their citizens, but many have been reluctant to do so amid security concerns and reported difficulties in dealing with groups controlling the area. Pictured: A fighter from the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces gives bread to children near the town of Baghouz during the battle

The UN has urged countries to repatriate their citizens, but many have been reluctant to do so amid security concerns and reported difficulties in dealing with groups controlling the area. Pictured: A fighter from the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces gives bread to children near the town of Baghouz during the battle 

For Abdullah, there are many obstacles to returning to the UK. 

Firstly, he told The National that his extended family may not even realise he is in Syria and that his mother and siblings have died.

On the rare occasions his British mother Rohana spoke to family outside of Syria, she would tell people that they were in Turkey. 

Abdullah said that his mother took him and his four siblings with her when she went to Syria to join ISIS after a mysterious man entered the family’s life in London in 2015. 

He was just seven years old when they made the trip.

‘[My mother] said to me ‘pick up all the stuff you have, we’re going to sell this house,’ Abdullah told The National.

‘There was a man who was helping us, he was taking our stuff and selling our house, I remember that.’

Last year, Save the Children said there are more than 60 British children trapped in Al-Hol, many of whom were under five years old. Pictured: A young girl interacts with a toddler at Al-Hol camp on March 3, 2021

Last year, Save the Children said there are more than 60 British children trapped in Al-Hol, many of whom were under five years old. Pictured: A young girl interacts with a toddler at Al-Hol camp on March 3, 2021

Last year, Save the Children said there are more than 60 British children trapped in Al-Hol, many of whom were under five years old. Pictured: A young girl interacts with a toddler at Al-Hol camp on March 3, 2021

Upon reaching Syria, Abdullah’s mother made a gesture of loyalty to ISIS that has further complicated her son’s efforts to return home – she burned the family’s passports.   

They then moved between Raqqa, the village of Al Mayadeen, and Mosul in Iraq. 

During the Battle of Baghouz, thousands of ISIS members and their families lived in tents and buildings in an encampment that was the target of air strikes.

Abdullah told The National that he begged his mother to change tents but she insisted on staying with a group of other foreign women.

‘On the last night, I said to my mum: ‘Come out of the house because they are going to strike the house because it’s so big,’ he said.

He ran away to stay with some Turkish friends but his mother remained and was killed, along with his sister Zeinab and younger brother Mohammed, when an air strike hit the tent. 

Al Hol is run by Kurdish forces to house those who surrendered following the Battle of Baghouz. Pictured: An SDF member stands as women and children leave Baghouz following ISIS's defeat [File photo]

Al Hol is run by Kurdish forces to house those who surrendered following the Battle of Baghouz. Pictured: An SDF member stands as women and children leave Baghouz following ISIS's defeat [File photo]

Al Hol is run by Kurdish forces to house those who surrendered following the Battle of Baghouz. Pictured: An SDF member stands as women and children leave Baghouz following ISIS’s defeat [File photo]

‘It was very bad because everywhere you see people dying and people burning,’ Abdullah said.

Aisha, another sister, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, while Abdullah’s older brother Rabi Allah had already been shot by a sniper while trying to carry out a suicide attack in Al Shaddadi, about 230 kilometres (142 miles) north of Baghouz.   

Abdullah told The National that his father, who did not travel to Syria with the family, is also dead.    

Tracking down relatives in the UK is one potential route to repatriation, but after five years in a war zone, Abdullah struggles to remember their names. 

He said his grandparents left the UK shortly after the family moved to Syria and likely do not know that his mother has been killed.

The National said it had informed the British government of Abdullah’s situation and whereabouts.  

Al-Hol is the largest camp for displaced people in Syria and more than 80 per cent of its 62,000 residents are women and children, the UN said in February. Pictured: Women and children evacuated from Baghouz arrive at an SDF screening area [File photo]

Al-Hol is the largest camp for displaced people in Syria and more than 80 per cent of its 62,000 residents are women and children, the UN said in February. Pictured: Women and children evacuated from Baghouz arrive at an SDF screening area [File photo]

Al-Hol is the largest camp for displaced people in Syria and more than 80 per cent of its 62,000 residents are women and children, the UN said in February. Pictured: Women and children evacuated from Baghouz arrive at an SDF screening area [File photo]

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