In July 2021, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Trafficked Britons in Syria launched an inquiry into the human trafficking operations employed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), following reports that ISIS had groomed and trafficked British nationals to and within their territory.
The evidence received by this inquiry has confirmed that ISIS operated a systematic and sophisticated trafficking enterprise, akin to trafficking operations carried out by other serious organised crime groups. The inquiry has heard that United Kingdom (UK) public authorities failed, and continue to fail, to protect vulnerable Britons from this criminal enterprise.
The APPG recognises the role the UK has played in tackling human trafficking and modern slavery, including with its flagship Modern Slavery Act 2015. Regrettably, the inquiry has identified a blind spot when confronting trafficking by ISIS and other terrorist organizations, which has resulted in systemic failures both to prevent trafficking by terrorist groups and to protect potential British victims. Despite evidence that British women and girls were trafficked to Syria and Iraq, the Government has failed to recognise them as victims of trafficking and has refused to support their repatriation to the UK. Today, these women and children remain detained in desert prisons in insecure and inhumane conditions which worsen with each passing day.
Moreover, the inquiry has identified an apparently blanket policy of citizenship deprivation, with no consideration of whether those affected were victims of trafficking. It is particularly concerned by what it learnt of a practice of encouraging family separation, without regard for the profoundly harmful impact on British children.
Evidence from global security experts to the inquiry has made clear the dangerous consequences of these policies. Leaving British men, women, and their children in inhumane and indefinite detention in North East Syria (NES) is deeply damaging to national and global security. The inquiry heard from current and former security officials, from both the UK and our closest partners, that refusing to repatriate our nationals makes us less safe.
The United States (US) Government told the APPG that citizenship stripping only “defers the problem”, effectively passing the buck to other countries less able to deal with it. The US has made clear its willingness to aid the UK to repatriate British nationals in NES and confirmed that local trials in the region were “untenable”. Meanwhile, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which operates the detention camps, described them as a “ticking time bomb”, and told the inquiry that they are “ready to provide unconditional assistance and cooperation with the UK” to repatriate its nationals.
There is no decency, justice, or security in abandoning British victims of trafficking and their children in horrific conditions, to face re-trafficking by ISIS, torture and execution in Iraq, or to disappear into the desert. Britain is one of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. It must live up to its promises of global leadership in countering ISIS. As a former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6, Richard Barrett, wrote in evidence to the inquiry, “trust of the UK’s suitability as a security partner has been eroded considerably due to lacklustre policy.” Mr Barrett was emphatic that if the UK Government continues down this path, “the UK will be considered […] as one of those in dereliction of their duties on the international stage.”
Many other countries – the US, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Italy and several others – have long since brought their people home or are in the process of doing so. The US has vocally called on us to do the same. The findings of this inquiry confirm that we must listen. Only by bringing back all British nationals detained in NES can we keep the UK safe, preserve our international reputation for upholding the rule of law, and tackle the twin evils of terrorism and trafficking.
|Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP||Lord Jay of Ewelme GCMG||Lyn Brown MP|