The Home Secretary on Monday called on young British Muslim men and women planning to travel to fight in the Middle East to consider the “destructive” impact their actions will have on their families and communities.
Theresa May said there were better ways of helping people in strife-torn countries such as Syria than putting oneself in a warzone.
“There are terrible human tragedies unfolding in places like Syria and Iraq. The British government has provided £600 million in humanitarian aid to Syria alone. The message is don’t go to Syria – there are better ways to help.
“The best way people can help respond to the crisis is from the UK within the UK and within the safety of their families and communities.”
Ms May was speaking at the launch of Families Against Stress and Trauma (FAST), a new initiative aimed at preventing young people from travelling to Syria and Iraq.
The UK-wide campaign has been developed by Families Matter, a community organisation which provides support to vulnerable families and individuals.
The campaign also aims to help families to come forward if they feel their sons or daughters are planning to take up arms abroad.
Several high-profile incidents have led to a national effort to prevent young people travelling to Iraq and Syria.
Last month two men from Cardiff and a man from Aberdeen featured in an online recruitment video urging western Muslims to join the fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (Isis) group.
Nasser Muthana, 20, Reyaad Khan, 20, and Abdul Raqib Amin, 26, appeared in the video and are thought to be among more than 400 Britons fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Nasser’s father Ahmed, who appeared in a FAST campaign video and whose other son Aseel is also in Syria, said: “Nasser was going to be a GP. We expected a high life for him. He was the best of the best but unfortunately he chose to go with these wrong people.
“I think ‘am I going to see him alive again?’ Maybe we won’t even see the coffin – we’ll just see on the news they’re dead.”
The Home Office has stepped up measures to crack down on people travelling to fight in the Middle East, including including prosecuting some of those who come back as terrorists.
“I am clear, in relation to people who are going to Syria and returning as terrorists, the Government will take action”, Ms May continued.
“Over 400 UK-linked individuals have now travelled to Syria since the uprising began. Anyone travelling to Syria and Iraq is exposing themselves to serious risks and the Government strongly advises against it.
FAST founder Saleha Jaffer said Muslim families were particularly concerned about the access to social media and influence of siblings on young people, although she backed prosecutions for those who become radicalised.
She said: “It is hard to properly convey the anguish of those left behind. Families matter because they are torn apart by those that choose to travel but they have the power to make a real difference.
“A lot of families are worried about social media and often children don’t even tell their families they are going away – that’s the biggest problem. We are asking them to look out for any small tell-tale signs.
“I think if a brother has gone then the families need to concentrate on the siblings and understand what they are thinking. They don’t need to tell them off, they need to be friends.
“I don’t think they are going to criminalise everyone but I think if the Government has intelligence that they are radicalised or extremists then yes I agree they should be prosecuted.”