A small group of British women and children, some 20 families, are detained in desert camps in North-East Syria, held in inhumane conditions with inadequate access to water, food, and healthcare. Investigations by Reprieve show that almost two-thirds of the women are victims of trafficking, often after online grooming by ISIS. A six-month inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Trafficked Britons in Syria found that the government was partly responsible in that they had neglected to take action to prevent the trafficking. Now the women are being stripped of their British nationality on the basis that they travelled to Syria of their own volition, ignoring the evidence that they were groomed or the fact that some were still children when they did so.
The chairman of the APPG said that the government’s approach is ‘morally reprehensible, legally dubious and utterly negligent from a security perspective’. It also considers that by refusing to repatriate its nationals, the UK is preventing justice from being done. Furthermore, by being rendered stateless, abandoned in the camps, the families are at risk of being trafficked or re-trafficked. The UK’s closest allies, including the US, have repeatedly called for the UK to repatriate all its nationals from these camps in the interests of regional and global security, and the US has offered its assistance. The government claims it is unable to do so for security reasons, despite many other countries having undertaken repatriations.
Where prosecution may be appropriate, the government has proposed trials in the region rather than in British courts, but this this widely understood to be unrealistic and could carry the risk of unfair trials, torture and the death penalty. According to newspaper reports, Shamima Begum is facing trial by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces group who are said to be building a court in the camp.
The APPG concluded that the government should take urgent steps to repatriate all British nationals detained in North-East Syria, that it should investigate claims of trafficking and offer support to such victims, that it should uphold the best interests of children by repatriating them with their mothers or primary caregivers rather than separating them, and that it should end the use of citizenship stripping. To read more of the report go to https://bit.ly/3QgY5Vf
You can also listen to a short talk by Maya Foa of Reprieve on The Problem of ISIS Brides at https://bit.ly/3OWwUxW. In this moving and powerful talk, Maya tells the stories of three women she met in the camps. They include a teenager targeted by a sophisticated ISIS trafficking organisation, a girl groomed by on older woman online, and a wife who followed her husband to Syria with their children.