LONDON: There is “compelling evidence” that British women and children were trafficked by Daesh to Syria against their will, a parliamentary report published on Thursday has concluded.
After a six-month inquiry, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on trafficked Britons in Syria found that systemic failure by UK public bodies had enabled Daesh to traffick vulnerable women and children as young as 12.
The report found evidence of a “siloed approach to counter-terrorism and anti-trafficking by UK police and other authorities,” which meant “key decision-makers failed to recognize signs of grooming and that vulnerable young girls were at risk of being lured out of the country by traffickers.”
About 20 British families are currently detained in Kurdish-administered camps in northeast Syria.
According to the NGO Reprieve, most of those women are victims of trafficking and were subjected to sexual and other forms of exploitation after being transported to Syria as children, coerced into traveling there, or kept and moved within the country against their will.
Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, co-chair of the APPG, said: “The government’s approach to British nationals detained in Syria is morally reprehensible, legally dubious and utterly negligent from a security perspective.”
The Home Office has moved slowly to repatriate citizens in those camps, instead often stripping them of their citizenship out of security concerns.
This method, said Mitchell, is “unsustainable, as recent IS (Daesh) attacks on Kurdish detention facilities have been shown. The US has told us to bring British families home and our European allies have shown us how. Any ministers still clinging to the current failed policy would do well to read this report, which sets out the potentially catastrophic consequences of continued inaction.”
The APPG warned that those victims could be exposed to violent ideologies, re-trafficked elsewhere, or the facilities holding them could be breached — as was the case in the Daesh assault on a prison in Hasakah — and holding them there also presents a risk to the global effort against terrorism.
In one case, British police, school and health professionals were all aware that a number of girls were experiencing domestic violence at home and knew that their father had removed them from school.
But it was a whole month after they had been taken to Syria before the local authority raised “safeguarding concerns” with the family doctor and proceeded to complete a child-missing-education form.
Another girl was prevented from leaving the UK with a man who was not from her family, but the authorities did not alert her family, and she left the country the next day.
Her family believe they could have prevented her from going to Syria if authorities had told them she was attempting it.
The UK, along with many other countries, has been grappling with the question of what to do with Daesh recruits now stranded in Syria.
London has chosen to block their return by removing their citizenship where possible, as is the case with Shaima Begum, who traveled to Syria as a minor and now claims she was the victim of trafficking.