Thomson Reuters Foundation

More than 2,500 foreign children living in harsh conditions in Syrian camps should be repatriated with their families to their countries of origin, Save the Children said on Thursday.

The children, with nationalities from 30 countries including France, Germany, the United States and Britain, are from families with real or suspected links to the militant group Islamic State.

They are living in three camps in northeast Syria without proper healthcare, food or education, the charity said.

With Islamic State depleted and Kurdish-led militia poised to seize the group's last holdout in eastern Syria, Western capitals are trying to work out what to do with battle-hardened foreign jihadist fighters and their wives and children.

"All states whose nationals are trapped in Syria must take responsibility for their citizens," Save the Children's Syria response director, Sonia Khush, said in a statement.

"While some states have begun to do so, many countries – including several European countries – have yet to take steps to ensure the safety of the children and their families."

In some cases, girls recruited by Islamic State as children are now mothers themselves. Some of the infants in the camps are merely days or weeks old.

The fate of foreign children stuck in Syria has been highlighted by the case of a teenage mother who this week was stripped of her British citizenship on security grounds after leaving London to join the Islamic State militant group at 15.

Shamima Begum, now 19, was found in a refugee camp in Syria last week and gave birth to a son at the weekend.

Begum's case has illustrated the ethical, legal and security conundrum that governments face when dealing with the families of militants who swore to destroy the West.

Since January, 560 foreign families, including more than 1,100 children, have entered the camps alongside thousands of Syrian families after fleeing fighting, said Save the Children.

They have joined thousands of other people who had been living in the camps since an offensive on the former Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in 2017.

"Some of the adults might face legal proceedings when they go back home for whatever actions they might have done in Syria," Joelle Bassoul, a spokeswoman for Save the Children, said by phone from Beirut, Lebanon.

"But we still call on these countries to take all the steps needed to protect the child because at the end the child is the victim."