Watchdog to step in over British women in Syria 

Watchdog to step in over British women in Syria 
Camps for the families of Daesh members, such as Al-Hawl, are home to roughly 10,000 foreigners from 57 countries. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 March 2021

Watchdog to step in over British women in Syria 

Watchdog to step in over British women in Syria 
  • Decision follows London’s refusal to disclose information on Daesh women stripped of citizenship
  • Thousands of Daesh-affiliated foreigners held in Syrian refugee camps administered by Western-allied Kurdish forces

LONDON: The UK’s public information watchdog has said it will step in after the government refused to disclose information surrounding how many women who joined Daesh in Syria have been stripped of their citizenship.

The action by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) follows concerns by rights groups that the government is declining to share critical information about the number of British women in camps in Syria, and whether they have children.

Alison Huyghe, advocacy officer with Rights and Security International, accused the Home Office of engaging in a “dogged refusal” to disclose data, meaning that the policy of removing British citizenship is “beyond all oversight.”

She added: “We need to know about any risk of discrimination or other patterns of gender-related harm when the government takes people’s British citizenship away.”

The UK has pursued a policy of stripping Daesh members of their citizenship to prevent them returning to Britain because of the security threat they pose.

Citing legal exemptions, the government has said it will not respond to freedom-of-information requests by rights groups requesting data on how many of those who have lost their citizenship are women, and how many are parents of children under the age of 18 at the time the decision was made.

Leigh Day, lawyers for Rights and Security International, appealed to the ICO, which replied that it had accepted the case “as eligible for further consideration.”

It is illegal under international law to render people stateless, and a number of legal cases have been brought against the UK government to challenge the policy.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that two anonymous women had successfully challenged the government and overturned the decision to strip them of their citizenship after it was decided that they are not eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship.

But in February, Britain’s Supreme Court rejected a challenge by Shamima Begum, a high-profile Daesh bride who argued that the government acted illegally when it stripped her of her citizenship.

Current estimates place the number of British women in Kurdish-administered camps in Syria at around 15 women with 35 children, though the exact number has not been made public.

Thousands of foreigners, many of them from Western countries, are currently in legal limbo in dangerous and impoverished refugee camps run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Their countries of origin have largely refused to repatriate them.

Last year, Rights and Security International said the indefinite detentions echo Guantanamo Bay, and urged countries to repatriate their citizens “to face justice.”

UN rights experts, in an appeal last month, urged 57 states to repatriate nearly 10,000 of their citizens held in the camps in “sub-human” conditions without legal process.