British women and children captured after the collapse of the Islamic State in Syria are being held in “barbaric” conditions and deprived in a “systematic way” of their UK citizenship, according to a report on their conditions.
As many as 35 British children and 15 British women are detained by Kurdish forces in two camps, al-Hol and al-Roj, along with thousands of children and women from Syria and around the world. It is Europe’s equivalent of the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, the report says.
The investigation by the London-based Rights and Security International charity says British intelligence officials regularly enter the camps. Once individuals are identified, it is alleged, their UK citizenship is usually swiftly withdrawn.
The report is published the day after the lawyers for Shamima Begum appealed to the supreme court for an opportunity for her to participate in a legal challenge over the removal of her British citizenship.
Conditions inside the camps, according to the study, are “fundamentally unsafe” and amount to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” – a breach of human rights. The organisation sent a researcher into the camps earlier this year.
On average, 25 detainees a month have been dying at al-Hol, it is alleged, with children living in tents and suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and hypothermia. Some have died from burns when tents caught fire or been killed in fights.
Guards are said to have shot detainees, sexually abused others and are ordered to forcibly remove boys from their mothers when they reach the age of 10.
“The camps in which they are being held are fundamentally unsafe environments in which physical violence is common, the conditions are barbaric, and psychological trauma is rife,” the report states.
It adds that women are placed in solitary confinement for months for alleged involvement in unrest or for possessing mobile phones. Last year, a child was reported to have been shot and killed when a stone he was playing with hit a camp guard.
The study urges European countries to fulfil their “legal, political and moral responsibilities and immediately repatriate their citizens”.
Documents, which have been released as part of the Begum case, show the UK regards women in the camps who travelled out from Britain as a national security risk and does not want them to return home. According to a summary of the case against Begum, the Home Office believes “there are no substantial grounds” to think that the 21-year-old faced “a real risk of mistreatment” during her detention detained in Syria.
The two camps are run by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, Europe’s ally against I in north-east Syria. A few detainees are said to have been repatriated, including some “British children who were repatriated in November 2019 and in September 2020”.
Yasmine Ahmed, the executive director of Rights &