The plight of Shamima Begum and the forgotten foreign wives of Isis

While repatriation debates rage on, Shamima Begum, Hoda Muthana and other foreign wives of Isis wait in legal limbo. A new documentary, ‘The Return’, lets them tell their stories so we might better understand what went wrong, and what we can still do right, says Stephen Applebaum

Saturday 10 July 2021 21:30
<p>The documentary followed Begum, now 21, over a period of two years</p>

The documentary followed Begum, now 21, over a period of two years

When the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) defeated Isis in Baghouz in 2019, after a months-long battle over an area of land less than 700 square metres, it marked the end of the Islamic State’s caliphate. Supposedly a paradise for Muslims, the caliphate was, in fact, a place of horror. At its height, 8 million people lived in the suffocating grip of a criminal regime that used a distorted interpretation of Islamic law to maintain control through terror and brutality.

After Baghouz fell and western troops withdrew, the Kurds found themselves with almost 100,000 Isis captives on their hands. Some remained ideologically faithful to Isis, many didn’t. Almost all, though, if they came from overseas, were rejected by their home nations. From governments to opinion polls and newspaper headlines, the message to westerners who joined Isis has nearly always been the same: you are no longer welcome here.

While people debate the issue of repatriation, foreign wives of Isis fighters and their children wait in legal limbo in heavily-guarded camps. Among them, famously, is Shamima Begum, the Londoner who ran away to join Isis with two friends in 2015, aged 15. Now 21, and the only survivor, she is currently being held in al-Roj detention camp in northeastern Syria, close to the border with Iraq, unable to return to the UK after her British citizenship was revoked in 2019, rendering her stateless.

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