UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’
There are now about 20 UK families stranded in former Daesh territories in Syria. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 December 2021

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’
  • Girls, young women were coerced into traveling to northeast Syria, where “rape, forced marriage were widespread”

LONDON: The grieving families of British “Daesh brides” were treated as suspects and criminals by police, The Observer has reported.

Several family members of girls and young women who had traveled to join Daesh described being “treated as criminals” and used as sources of intelligence by the authorities.

One individual said that their home was raided and searched after they informed police of their daughter’s decision to join Daesh in Syria.

The revelations came during a parliamentary session last week. The media were prohibited from reporting on the session due to harassment concerns, but separately, four of the families later gave accounts of their experiences to The Observer.

They warned that their daughters have been “left stranded” in Syrian refugee camps.

One woman said that her sister had traveled to Syria. However, after she had informed and cooperated with police, she learned that officers were uninterested in locating her sibling.

“We thought the police were there to help us. Over time, we could see the police and the authorities weren’t talking to us to help us, but only to get information. Once they had their information, they washed their hands of us,” she said.

“We were never offered any support. I felt I had to prove I was anti-extremist to them. I felt I was always under suspicion.”

Another person said: “I was interrogated as if I was a suspect, and once they had decided I wasn’t, they didn’t really want anything to do with me. It became really difficult to get in touch with them.”

Many of the families warned that the UK government had abandoned the presumption of innocence when it came to their children.

One said: “Normally, it is Western governments that talk about human rights and trafficking. However, when it is my family who have been abused and trafficked, they have decided not even to investigate their cases. They are considered guilty just for being in Syria.

“Women and children are being punished without a trial. I don’t know why Britain has decided to abandon its principles in my family’s case.”

Another family member said: “I felt really betrayed. I’ve now lost faith in the people who are supposed to help and protect us. We don’t have our rights any longer.”

The claims come in the wake of a report from legal charity Reprieve that found that many of the Daesh brides initially traveled to the war-torn country due to coercion and trafficking.

Once there, the report warned, exploitation, forced marriage and rape were widespread within Daesh territory.

There are now about 20 UK families stranded in former Daesh territories in Syria, but the UK Home Office has repeatedly denied the repatriation of women and children.

Andrew Mitchell, former international development secretary and chair of the all-party parliamentary group that heard the testimonies, said: “If the government would only listen to these families, it would surely realize the inhumanity and sheer wrongheadedness of abandoning British citizens in desert detention camps.

“This terrible policy is affecting ordinary law-abiding families and fraying the fabric of our multicultural society. Whether from a security perspective or a moral one, the case for repatriation could not be more clear.”

Former Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi said: “Many of us in parliament are very concerned by what is happening here, particularly in relation to the precedent that it sets.”

Maya Foa, Reprieve director, said that families in the camps were “stripped of all rights, presumed guilty without a trial, subjected to violence and abandoned by the government.”

Foa warned that the government “appeared to be seeking to inflict maximum harm on this group — which is mostly British children — to make some kind of political point.”

One family member heard during the session said: “All I want to ask the government is; you had every opportunity to protect her and failed, how can you now wash your hands of her?”