April 30, 2021Repatriation Gender Citizenship Marginalised and vulnerable groups
London, 30 April 2021 – The UK Parliament should begin an urgent inquiry into government policies in response to new evidence that over half of British women in North East Syrian camps are victims of human trafficking, Rights and Security International (RSI) said today.
"The Government is failing to meet its commitment to protecting victims of trafficking and is exposing British women trafficked to Syria to further abuses – including a risk of re-trafficking,” said Emily Ramsden, Legal and Policy Officer at RSI. "The camps where these women and children are detained in North East Syria are fundamentally unsafe and profoundly inappropriate for trafficking survivors.”
RSI has documented the squalid and life-threatening conditions in the camps. A new report published today by the UK human rights organisation Reprieve concludes that the majority of British and formerly British women detained in squalid camps in North East Syria are victims of trafficking: at least 63% were victims of sexual or other exploitation and were either forced to travel to Syria, transported there as children or kept or moved within Syria against their will, Reprieve states.
According to this latest report, the UK Government’s policies towards these women fail to fulfil the country’s obligations to prevent, protect and effectively investigate cases of human trafficking, contrary to both national and international law.
Evidence suggests that the Government is not taking the necessary steps to identify potential victims of trafficking to Syria. Instead, RSI is concerned that it appears to be stripping most of the women – including potential victims of trafficking – of their citizenship and refusing to provide them with the assistance they need to leave the camps and return home with their children.
RSI has criticised the Government’s lack of transparency surrounding its policies in respect of British and former British nationals in Syria. It is hoped that the recent launch of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficked Britons in Syria will improve Parliamentary engagement with these policies.
Reprieve estimates that around 16 British or formerly British women and 34 British children remain living in camps in North East Syria that UN experts have described as ‘squalid’, ‘grim’ and ‘a blight on the conscience of humanity'. Reprieve concludes that women and children are exposed to abuse, exploitation and the risk of further trafficking.
In its November 2020 report entitled ‘Europe’s Guantanamo’ RSI documented the dire humanitarian conditions in the camps, finding that camp residents face constant threats of violence as well as a lack of clean water, food, safe shelter and medical care. Children also face a lack of education and other conditions that increase the risk that they, too, may be trafficked or exploited in the future.
“The UK Government should bring back all British and former British citizens held in North East Syria to prevent further harm and to protect any victims of human trafficking.” Ramsden concluded. “The deplorable statistics published today should prompt Parliament to demand an investigation and compel the government to uphold its commitment to victims.”
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