Two British women held in “appalling” Syrian camp after government refuses release on “national security” fears

18 October 2022, 21:01

Two British women are facing indefinite detention in "appalling" conditions at a Syrian camp
Two British women are facing indefinite detention in "appalling" conditions at a Syrian camp. Picture: Jenny Matthews / Alamy

By Danielle DeWolfe

Two British women are facing indefinite detention in "appalling" conditions at a Syrian camp after the UK Government refused to request their release on “national security grounds”.

The High Court heard how the women, both mothers, are being held in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) – a Syrian camp riddled with disease, malnutrition and inadequate sanitation and violence.

The women, who can only be identified as C3 and C4 for legal reasons, are now bringing legal action against the Foreign Secretary in a bid to end their families "unlawful" detention.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which is currently overseen by James Cleverly, has said it previously declined to help with the women’s repatriation "on national security grounds".

It claimed both women had travelled "of their own volition" to join the so-called Islamic State.

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The women are being held in a Syrian camp where malnutrition is rife
The women are being held in a Syrian camp where malnutrition is rife. Picture: LBC / Alamy

However, the women’s legal teams refute these claims, asserting Kurdish authorities have told the UK Government that C3 is "not an extremist and does not agree with the ideology of the Islamic State" and that C4 was coerced into travelling to Syria.

Dan Squires KC, who represents the women, notes the pair have already spent a year in detention, claiming they "have not been charged with any offence or subject to any form of legal process" and "are being detained indefinitely and arbitrarily" in the camp.

Describing the camp as a place where “disease and ill health are rife”, Mr Squires highlighted "reports of guards shooting at women and children attempting to escape" and "documented evidence of abuse and physical, sexual and other violence in the detention camps".

Last year, the two women won an appeal at the UK's Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) over the Government's earlier decision to strip them of their British nationality over an alleged national security risk.

Families fleeing Syria
Families fleeing Syria. Picture: LBC / Alamy

SIAC concluded the women were not nationals of any other state apart from the UK, and removing their citizenship would render them "stateless", the court was told.

The camp, serving those who have been displaced following the defeat of the so-called Islamic State, believe the women and their families should be repatriated to the UK.

Lawyers working on behalf of Mr Cleverly, however, argued the UK has played no role in their detention and is under no legal obligation to provide assistance.

The two women are applying for "a writ for habeas corpus" - a Latin phrase meaning "you may have the body" - which requires a held person is brought before a court to examine the legality of their detention.

Dan Squires KC, representing the detainees, told the court on Tuesday: "Does the Secretary of State have the power to bring the body here?

"Does the Secretary of State have the power as a matter of fact to bring these women before this court? We say the answer (is) clearly he does."

It is the Foreign Secretary's decision "that determines whether the (women) are released or remain detained", Mr Squires said, adding that the minister has "sufficient de facto control" over their detention.

"To date the (Foreign Secretary) has, however, refused to request the (women's) release," Mr Squires said.

"As a consequence, the (women) remain detained, potentially indefinitely."

The women's potential return could be facilitated by human rights charity Reprieve if the UK refuses to make practical arrangements, Mr Squires said, adding that, other than making the "official request" the Government only needed to provide "documentation needed to allow for their repatriation".

He said that as British citizens they "have a right of abode in the UK" and "the right not to be exiled from the UK, and a right to return to this country".

The hearing is due to conclude on Wednesday, with a ruling expected at a later date.

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