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British women, children face ‘barbaric’ conditions in Syrian camps: Report

Market place in the Azraq camp for Syrian refugees in northern Jordan. (Russell Watkins/UK Department for International Development)

British women and children captured in Syria after the collapse of Daesh are being held in “barbaric” conditions and have had their UK citizenships withdrawn, a report has revealed.

About 15 women and 35 children from Britain are being detained by Kurdish forces in two camps, along with thousands of other women and children from Syria and around the world.

The report, by London-based charity Rights and Security International, warns that the camps are “Europe’s equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.”

The report claims that British intelligence officials regularly enter the camps, and that once individuals are identified, their UK citizenship is usually withdrawn.

The findings come as lawyers for Shamima Begum appealed to the UK Supreme Court for her right to challenge the removal of her British citizenship.

The report claims that conditions in the camps are “fundamentally unsafe” and involve “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.” The charity sent a researcher into the camps to gather evidence earlier this year.

In one of the camps, an average of 25 detainees per month have died, with children living in tents and suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and hypothermia. Some have died in fires or have been killed in fights, the report claims.

Guards have allegedly shot and sexually abused camp prisoners, and are ordered to forcibly remove boys from their mothers when they reach the age of 10.

“The camps in which they are being held are fundamentally unsafe environments in which physical violence is common, the conditions are barbaric, and psychological trauma is rife,” the report said.

Women are also placed in solitary confinement for months if involved in unrest or caught using a mobile phone.

The charity has urged European countries to fulfil their “legal, political and moral responsibilities and immediately repatriate their citizens.”

As part of the Begum case, government documents were revealed that show the UK regards British women in the camps as a “national security risk.”

The UK Home Office has said “there are no substantial grounds” to think Begum faced “a real risk of mistreatment” during her detention in Syria.

The two camps are run by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria — Europe’s ally against Daesh in the region. Some detainees have been repatriated, including some British children.

“This is Europe’s Guantanamo, but for children. It beggars belief that the UK, who rightly condemned the abuses of Guantanamo Bay, now stands by and let children, including a newborn British baby, die. Now these women and children face another brutal winter with more deaths,” said Yasmine Ahmed, executive director of Rights and Security International.

“The claim that it is safer to leave women and children in the camps flies in the face of security experts who say that the real security risk comes from leaving these women and children in the detention camps where they are vulnerable to radicalization, and where their dire conditions can serve as a recruitment tool,” she added.

“Have we learned nothing from the last 20 years on the war on terror? When we place people outside the law, when we deny them rights, treat them with brutality and without humanity, we not only undermine the values we are fighting for but we make ourselves and the world less safe, not more.”

Ahmed said the UK government is using removal of citizenship “in a far more systematic way” than other European countries.

Richard Barrett, former MI6 director of global counterterrorism who was interviewed in the report, said: “The longer they stay without proper assessment of their mental and physical health or their attitudes towards their families, communities and countries, the more unpredictable they will become. And the more difficult it will be to determine what they’re going to do.”

Responding to the findings, A UK government spokesperson said: “Depriving someone of their British citizenship is never a decision that is taken lightly, but our priority is always to ensure the safety and security of the UK.

“We have also made it clear that we are willing to repatriate orphans and unaccompanied British children from Syria where feasible and where there is no risk to UK national security. Every request for consular assistance is considered on a case-by-case basis.

“The UK is at the forefront of the humanitarian response in Syria, contributing more than £3 billion ($4 billion) and funding supplies such as food, water, healthcare and shelter, including in camps.”

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(c) 2020 the Arab News

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