Human rights experts at the United Nation this month urged 57 states, including Britain, to repatriate the families, citing the “unclear grounds” on which they were detained. Some 10 Frenchwomen also detained in the Roj camp started a hunger strike this week, in an effort to pressure their government to bring them home.
“If some Western nations like Britain are facing difficulties in prosecuting their returnees, it will be as difficult for Kurdish authorities, which have limited evidence that these women have committed crimes,” said Thomas Renard, a researcher at the Egmont Institute. “So, do we keep them in illegal detention forever, without the perspective of a trial?”
In addition to humanitarian concerns, researchers have warned that the consequences of not bringing their citizens home could outweigh the risks posed by their repatriation. Some women have left the camps and are now unaccounted for, which could pose a threat of further radicalization. Lawyers have also argued that repentant women could share valuable information about the Islamic State if interrogated at home.
Around 900 British nationals traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, with hundreds of them having died there. About 450 have since returned, but at least nine men and 16 women, along with around 35 children, remain in Syria, according to the human rights group Reprieve. That includes Ms. Begum, whose case has ricocheted from one British court to another.
By stripping Ms. Begum of her citizenship in 2019, the authorities hoped to prevent her return, but it might have had the opposite effect.
The Court of Appeal ruled in July that the only way Ms. Begum would be able to pursue a “fair and effective appeal” was by returning to Britain. The British government then appealed the ruling, sending the case to the Supreme Court.
At a hearing in November, one of Ms. Begum’s lawyers argued that only in Britain could she properly mount her defense, because it was difficult to communicate with her defense team while she is in Syria.