Sunday 13 October 2019

Reporting with feeling

The BBC has discovered three young children in a Syrian camp for detained IS members. They are said to have originally lived in London. The BBC reporter involved, Quentin Sommerville, is live-tweeting the news and crossing the line between straight reporting and active advocacy:  

  • These three kids, Amira, Hamza and Hiba, are orphans of the Islamic State. Their nationality has been a mystery since they were found after the fall of Baghouz. Their in a Kurdish-run camp in NE Syria not far from the Turkish-led incursion.
  • They speak Arabic. Amira, who is ten, was brought to Syria five years ago. Like many of the children left by radicalised parents, they are wary of revealing details about themselves.
  • But when the kids are alone together, it was noticed that they spoke English.
  • Amira hasn’t written in English for a long time. But slowly and carefully she wrote down what she could remember, spelling phonetically. She writes she’s from LaNDN uKeH - london, UK?
  • After a while, she spoke to us in English. Have a listen, she’s trying to remember her life back in the UK.
  • Amira told us about their escape from Baghouz. The BBC Syria team has dealt with a lot of traumatic testimony over the years, but this was particularly hard.
  • “We were sitting there. They were hitting so much,” she said. “There was a little house and that big dusty mountain and behind it everybody was dead. In front of us was everyone who was not killed, the other people.”
  • She continued, “We were going to pack our stuff and get out, the airplane came and bombed. So then my mum died, my littlest brother, my little brother and my sister. Then after that, all was getting on fire. We had to walk out.”
  • “After that, I saw my (older) brother. He was walking up. He knows my mum was dead there. I think he was down there hiding from snipers and guns. So then after that, he ran there. When he was running that little house broke and went on fire so he died.”
  • She goes on to describe - this girl of just ten years old - babies dying in her arms. Leaving aside nationality for a moment - this is a disgrace. There are kids in the camp who’ve been through the worst trauma imaginable and we aren’t giving them sanctuary?
  • Their scars are real. This is eight year old Hiba. They have no trauma counsellors, no relatives who love them, no place to call home. We fought ISIS and said, “to hell with the rest, let them rot”.
  • It’s thought there are around 30 british children in the camps. But all have parents - Amira, Hamza and Hiba may be the first British orphans. They want to come home.
  • We have given all the details we have to the British authorities who are investigating. The kids aren’t far from the Turkish assault. This is a matter of urgency. They’ve already endured so much.
  • The kids may not qualify as British nationals. But are we content with leaving them there in a camp full of radicalised women, and with another conflict about to overwhelm them? There are thousands of “IS” children stranded in Syria. Who will help them?
  • And what does a little London girl, sitting in the Syrian desert dream of?
  • You can listen to Amira here. We’ll be putting her story out across the BBC today, radio, TV and online in the hope that someone recognises her, Hiba and Hamza.
  • *Feel free to retweet. There’s a granny in London somewhere who doesn’t know her grandkids are still alive. ENDS

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