Shamima Begum and other British women who joined Islamic State and are being held in Syria will ‘ultimately’ be allowed back in the UK, terror watchdog says
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Shamima Begum will ‘ultimately’ end up being allowed back into Britain, the Government’s terror watchdog said today.
Jonathan Hall KC, the reviewer of terrorism legislation, said he has a ‘hunch’ that the UK will in time make the political decision to repatriate current and former British citizens from Syria.
He told Times Radio: ‘I’m not just looking at Shamima Begum, I’m looking at the numbers who are currently in camps who are either UK citizens, and there are some of them, or people who used to be UK citizens and have been deprived, and we know that there are about 60 children who are UK-linked, slightly fewer than that (are) women and an unknown number of men.
‘I’m looking at the position now when our allies – France, Australia, Sweden and Germany – are slowly bringing back their citizens and I’m just posing the question whether or not the UK is going to be a complete outlier.
‘I’m posing the question: Is the UK really in such a bad position compared to our allies that we can’t in time absorb these individuals as well?’
Shamima Begum will ‘ultimately’ be allowed back into the UK, the Government’s independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation predicted today
Mr Hall added that he has a ‘hunch’ that ‘ultimately’ it is going to happen.
‘If it’s going to happen, particularly bearing in mind the fate of children, probably better to do it now than wait even more years,’ he said.
‘If she was to be brought back in it wouldn’t be saying anyone approves of what she did.
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‘It would be saying, taken as a whole, is the UK so much worse off than other countries that we have to leave our UK-linked individuals there?
Mr Hall said he understands people wanting to see ‘vengeance’ and ‘punishment’ in relation to British citizens who joined ISIS.
‘It makes my blood boil to think about what people did and I can really understand why the Shamima Begum case in particular has really become about her and her morality – or her lack of morality – whether she is lying now etcetera,’ he said.
The barrister said several years ago there was a risk that allowing all British jihadis to return at once would overwhelm the system, but insisted things were different now.
‘You can already see people talking about Europe’s Guantanamo and if it was only Britain who had its UK-linked individuals in camps you can immediately imagine people trying to make a propaganda effort saying Britain’s Guantanamo,’ he said.
Mr Hall also backed Ms Begum’s return in a speech at King’s College London on Monday evening.
Jonathan Hall KC said he has a ‘hunch’ that the UK will in time make the political decision to repatriate current and former British citizens from Syria
Ms Begum was 15 when she travelled from Bethnal Green, east London, through Turkey and into territory controlled by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in 2015, before her citizenship was revoked in February 2019.
She has been locked in a legal battle ever since and last week the 23-year-old lost her latest challenge against the decision to strip her of her British citizenship on national security grounds.
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The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) found there was a ‘credible suspicion that Ms Begum was recruited, transferred and then harboured for the purpose of sexual exploitation’.
However, the tribunal said this did not prevent the then-home secretary Sajid Javid from removing her citizenship.
Ms Begum – whose case has prompted huge debate – is one of an estimated 60 British women and children held by Kurdish authorities in Syria who have no means of leaving without the UK Government’s co-operation.
In his speech, Mr Hall said the UK’s ‘strategic distance’ policy of removal of citizenship, limited consular assistance and funding of Kurdish detaining authorities is ‘at a crossroads’.
He said that the risk posed by IS has changed and that, as repatriations by other European countries have picked up, the UK is ‘under the spotlight’.
Mr Hall acknowledged the concerns about the risk IS Britons could pose but also argued that decisions need to be made and this could come ‘sooner than expected through US and allied pressure, Turkish military activity, court rulings, or natural disasters such as the recent earthquake’.
Mr Hall has warned of the risk of creating a ‘British Guantanamo’ at the camps in Syria where some British jihadi brides are currently living
He added: ‘Compared to men, women are less likely to have travelled for the purpose of fighting; are less likely to have played battlefield roles; may well have had less autonomy in being able to leave; and now make up the majority of those UK-linked individuals detained.
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‘Women with children may also fear child protection measures being taken against them by Western states, mitigating against further terrorist engagement on return.’
By contrast, former Home Secretary Priti Patel argued Begum should not be brought back to the UK.
When asked about the case at a Policy Exchange event in Westminster last week, she said: ‘It is very difficult and we are an outlier, but we are an outlier for good reason, and those reasons include the threat to our own citizens and the threat to our country.’
Having seen the ‘security and intelligence behind some of these decisions’, she added: ‘As much as it may be uncomfortable for some, as long as someone is a threat and an individual is a threat to our country, and a threat to our citizens, I think it’s right that they are not brought back here.
‘I just believe that we have to do everything we can to protect our country.’
She also said the ‘implications’ of bringing someone like Begum back to the UK and the resources required if that were to happen would be ‘absolutely phenomenal’.
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