A British girl who was trafficked to Isis territory in Syria at the age of 12, repeatedly sexually abused and gave birth to a child conceived by rape at 15 is among dozens of women and children stranded in refugee camps.
Two-thirds (at least 63 per cent) of British women detained in northeast Syria were trafficked to the region, an investigation by human rights organisation Reprieve revealed.
Many were transported or coerced into travelling to Syria as children and all were subjected to sexual and other forms of exploitation.
Those who escaped Isis territory and made their way to the Kurdish-held north are detained indefinitely without charge or trial in dire conditions in refugee camps where hundreds of people, mostly children, die a year, Reprieve found.
The organisation said the UK government is “systematically failing trafficking victims” by criminalising them, stripping them of their British citizenship and not bringing them home.
Public authorities also failed to protect at-risk women and girls from being trafficked to Syria in the first place and their experience mirrors that of Shamima Begum, who left the UK aged 15 to travel to Syria in 2015, Reprieve argued.
Andrew Mitchell, the former shadow international development secretary, said there was “no decency or justice in abandoning trafficking victims to face torture and the death penalty”.
“We cannot wash our hands of these Britons, abandoning them in ungoverned space,” he wrote in the foreword of Reprieve’s report.
The government will only accept the return of unaccompanied or orphaned children. Reprieve said it is aware of at least seven British women denied repatriation and at least two of them were under 18 when they arrived in Syria.
Reprieve said it has assisted the families of 24 vulnerable people, most of whom are from the UK, detained in the Roj and Al Hol camps since 2019 and its findings are based on research in northeastern Syria since 2017.
Of the British nationals who remain in the region, the vast majority (84 per cent) are women and children, and over half of detainees (57 per cent) are under 18.
The Reprieve report includes the case of Nadia, who was born and raised in Britain and whose name was changed to protect anonymity. She was 12 years old when she was taken from the UK to Syria by a male relative.
She was then repeatedly raped, forced into marriage at 14 years old and gave birth to her first child conceived by rape by the age of 15.
After years of domestic servitude and sexual exploitation, Nadia, her sister and her mother escaped Isis territory and made their way to the north, where she is detained with her young son.
“The UK government claims to be leading the global fight against human trafficking and modern slavery, yet in respect of these British trafficking victims, the UK government has adopted a policy of blanket citizenship stripping, refusing to repatriate families and denying them even the most basic consular assistance,” the Reprieve report said.
Siobhán Mullally, the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, said the UK has committed to eradicating all forms of modern slavery and human trafficking by 2030, but there are “urgent protection gaps” relating to the UK nationals stranded in camps in Syria.
“Repatriation of families currently detained indefinitely in northeast Syria is a necessary first step to meeting the UK’s domestic and international law obligations,” she said.
A government spokesperson said: “Our priority is to ensure the safety and security of the UK. Those who remain in Syria include dangerous individuals who chose to stay to fight or otherwise support a group that committed atrocious crimes including butchering and beheading innocent civilians.
“The foreign secretary made it clear in parliament, that where we become aware of British unaccompanied or orphaned children, or if British children are able to seek consular assistance, we will work to facilitate their return, subject to national security concerns.
“Every request for consular assistance is considered on a case-by-case basis.”
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