Matthew Offord is MP for Hendon.
The announcement by Donald Trump that he will remove US forces from the Syrian-Turkish border places the fate of ISIS fighters under further uncertainty and will force the UK government to make a decision on the fate of British nationals held in refugee camps in the region.
It is not known how many remain, but their status continues to be a problem for the Government. If no decision is made, it is entirely possible they could be freed or even escape from their current predicament after the withdrawal of security forces.
That would leave them free either to travel to other parts of the world or continue with their insurgency in the region. Either result would be highly undesirable.
In February I asked an Urgent Question of the Home Secretary about the decision to strip Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship. I believed then, as I do now, that the decision was wrong. Begum was a British national and the then Home Secretary’s removal of her citizenship avoided constructing a policy for these individuals.
I have absolutely no sympathy for the stupid and reckless decision by Begum to travel to Syria and join ISIS, but she should be prosecuted in a British court and confronted with the atrocities she contributed towards. Stripping her, and ‘Jihadi’ Jack Letts, of their British citizenship prevents them facing trial in this country.
It had been the wish of the US administration for the countries of foreign nationals to repatriate and prosecute their citizens – but many countries, including the United Kingdom, have refused to do that. The policy of the British Government is for British nationals to face justice in the countries where they have committed crimes.
This causes another problem for the Government, as it is the legal position of HMG to oppose the death penalty in all its forms and to prevent the execution of any British national anywhere in the world. Both Syria and Iraq use capital punishment.
Some commentators have suggested that the International Criminal Court should take precedence and prosecute British nationals. However Fatour Bensouda, Prosecutor of the Court, has ruled out that option, as she says that neither Syria nor Iraq was a member of the Court and therefore she has no jurisdiction. In any event, the Court leads on mass atrocities and there is no suggestion that any British national has been a leading member of ISIS.
A further problem is that of the children born to parents who travelled to join the Caliphate. Regardless of where they were born, the Government view them as British citizens. Questions need to be answered about whether they should be repatriated or left in the hands of parents seeking to indoctrinate them into the cult of Islamist extremism.
Ministers concede that we would remove a child at risk of harm from their parents in this country, so what would be so different from a removal in another country? Yet aside from the practical issues of getting them out of another country there is a moral dilemma about breaking up families.
There is one further option, that was raised by Rory Stewart a year ago. He said that “ …unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.” That is not a viable option, given Britain’s view on capital punishment and the fact that military conflict has ended.
The Government has to take several decisions on what it means to do with these British nationals and get other countries to do the same. If it fails to do so it risks the resurrection of ISIS and further conflict in years to come – in Syria, Iraq, or even elsewhere.