How Save the Children helped rescue British children trapped in Syria

Chloe Choppen
Chloe Choppen23rd January 2020
Last Autumn, Save the Children launched a successful campaign to bring the so called ‘ISIS children’ back to the UK. This group of orphans was stranded in an area of Syria previously controlled by ISIS. Media coverage played an important role in the success of the campaign as Dan Stewart, media manager at Save the Children explains.

Save the Children supporters recently helped transform the lives of a group of British children caught up in horrors far beyond their control.

The Government announced they were bringing home some of the innocent, British orphans who had been stranded in appalling conditions in overcrowded camps in northeast Syria after fleeing areas that had been under the control of ISIS.

Their short lives have been full of violence and fear but this brilliant news means these children have the precious chance to recover, have happy childhoods and live full lives. All children deserve that chance. And for the British children among them we can make it happen by bringing them to the UK.

This didn’t just happen on its own. It has taken a huge effort to get to this point and Save the Children campaigners have played an absolutely integral role. They spoke out in their thousands and our Government listened.

More than 10,000 campaigners emailed the Government calling on them to bring home all British children stranded in north-east Syria.These messages were sent in just five days, as support surged.

 

Media coverage

The campaign was given a boost when the BBC found three British orphans in a camp – stranded and in danger. Conditions for British children were now on the agenda but we were worried attention would die away before pressure built enough to make a difference. It was important for Save the Children to use our position as one of the few NGOs working in the northeast to keep the story going.

Fighting then came dangerously close to the British orphans’ camp. Hundreds of women and children fled and chaos reigned. But through our contacts Save the Children was able to confirm that the British orphans had been taken to safety nearby location, though they weren’t in our care.

Later, we were able to reveal that altogether there were more than 60 British children trapped in the area. This key part of the picture – previously unknown – generated widespread coverage in the media and helped decision-makers understand the scale of the issue.

All of this helped keep the issue high on the news and political agenda. Other voices joined in. Supportive articles in places like the Guardian and the Times soon followed.

Then we took our campaign direct to those in power. Save the Children projected ‘Don’t leave British children trapped in Syria’ onto the Houses of Parliament the evening before parliament dissolved for the election campaign. We sent a 50 sq m message that children’s lives cannot be left at risk for months in dangerous, freezing limbo while the election unfolds.

 

Impact

We started seeing positive signs coming from the corridors of power and the Government shifted position. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said for the first time that he thought ‘innocents should not be caught in the crossfire’ and he would look at whether British and orphans could be given safe passage to the UK. MPs from all parties spoke out in support and the Government acknowledged a duty of care to the British children in North East Syria. These are the building blocks of real change.

Everywhere we work has one thing in common: children are incredible. They want to play and learn, and just be children again. And they want to grow up to be doctors, teachers and football players. With the right care they can bounce back, recover and amaze us. They just need the chance. These children are no different, no matter what they’ve been dragged into by the decisions of adults.

By starting to bring these children home the Government showed they are prepared to do what’s right and stand up for children – even when it’s difficult. But this has to be only the start.

There are still as many as 60 British children that remain stranded in appalling conditions and Syria’s harsh winter will soon begin to bite. All are as innocent as those who have been rescued and our very real fear is that they won’t all survive to see the spring.

Everyone who helped bring these first children home should be incredibly proud, from campaigners making their voices heard to those working tirelessly behind the scenes. Every child saved is a triumph of compassion in the face of cruelty. Now it’s time to finish the job. They must all be brought home before it is too late.

Find out more about Save the Children’s campaign

 


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