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One of three schoolgirls who fled London to join so-called Islamic State in 2015 has been found by a UK newspaper in a Syrian refugee camp. Her family wants the government's help to return her to the UK, while the government is saying it won't do this.

The British Embassy in Syria has been suspended since 2012, and the government is saying that Brits in Syria who need assistance should contact the Embassy in Lebanon (Source).

Putting aside their reasons for going there, in what ways, if any, would the UK government be obliged to assist a British citizen in a country like Syria? Would they be obliged to, for example, assist them to reach the nearest embassy, or to provide documentation that allows them to board a flight back? Or can the government leave them to fend for themselves, as travel advice has clearly stated for years not to go there?

  • Are you asking about the British in particular? I doubt there are rules as to what each country must do for citizens. General rules like the Vienna convention don't provide such rights for citizens. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Feb 17 at 9:33
  • I'm talking in terms of international law (and have tagged it accordingly). – Joe C Feb 17 at 9:56
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    The only mandatory assistance that I can think about would be providing identity papers, out of international laws against the creation of stateless people, and those arising for laws about refugees. – SJuan76 Feb 17 at 12:03
  • On a point of pedantry, assistance to your own citizens in a foreign country is provided by a consulate. Consulates often share buildings and staff with embassies, but they're not the same thing. – Peter Taylor Feb 19 at 8:42
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There are two pertinent clauses in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to a nationality.

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return

Now, while the UDHR is not binding international law, it does describe a set of international norms and principles, some of which are codified into other treaties in greater detail.

Put together, these mean that the UK (or any other nation) cannot prevent one of their citizens from returning to the UK. However nothing in the UDHR, or any other document I can find, places any positive duties on a country to expedite the return or assist one of their citizens in any particular way, except to provide her with a nationality (and documentation of that nationality such as a passport, subject to the usual fees)

There is another clause that is relevant

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.

The UDHR doesn't go further, or define how mothers should be treated specially, as noted, the UDHR is not a legal text. But in this particular case, in which the subject is both a mother and was a child when she left the UK, the UDHR suggests that a nation should consider if she is deserving of special treatment.

  • Could you please expand the last part? It's unclear to me why Motherhood and Childhood are relevant in this case. (I expect that clause to be about breastfeeding and toddlers and so on, and the special care they need) – Sjoerd Feb 18 at 0:05
  • The UDHR is vague on what it means here. It says nothing about breastfeeding or what special treatment mothers may require. I think it is just a hint that when a balance of rights is being considered, the status as a mother should be taken into consideration. – James K Feb 18 at 21:48

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