"They should come back”: Shamima Begum and the trapped women of ISIS.

With Lucy Marley Journalist ,
Hisham Arafat Local Producer,
and Phil Caller Producer/Shooter

Shamima is one of the many women and children living in camps in North East Syria. What should happen to them?

Shamima Begum is currently living in a tent in North East Syria. A long way from east London where she grew up.
Her tent is in Roj Camp - along with thousands of other women and children.
Our reporting team has just got back after spending four days there - and it feels more like a prison than a ‘camp’.
She wants to come home to the UK but isn’t allowed. We've spoken to Sevinaz Evdike, who worked on a deradicalisation programme in northern Syria. She knows Shamima well.
They met after Shamima left the collapsed Islamic State, and built a good relationship during their time together. Sevinaz told us all the women and children should be allowed home.

How did Shamima get to Syria?

Shamima is from Bethnal Green, a part of east London. 
At 15, she and two other friends decided to travel to Syria. They were on their way to join a military organisation called ISIS. 
https://d2pmqfxhi6vfg3.cloudfront.net/images/2022-11-22T20:58:25.260Z-CCTV.jpg

Kadiza Sultana, left, Shamima Begum, centre and and Amira Abase going through security at Gatwick airport. Credit: AP/Met Police

This grainy CCTV photo of them leaving the UK went viral and the media named them the ‘Bethnal Green girls’. 
The then head of the Met police (the police force for London) apologised to the families of the three girls: “In hindsight, we now know that these girls were planning to go and neither the family, the police, the school nor anyone else realised that." 

What is ISIS?

ISIS is a violent, militant Islamic group which supports a very strict version of Islam. 
Many governments describe the group as terrorists.
ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. And the group has been at war with many different countries. 
https://d2pmqfxhi6vfg3.cloudfront.net/images/2022-11-22T21:05:40.865Z-AP19300399316668.jpg

ISIS fighter

Many of their actions have been horrific and they are responsible for  killing innocent civilians around the world.
ISIS used social media as a form of recruitment - but also psychological warfare, publishing torture and murder videos on the internet for the world to see. 

“I want to come home”

Shamima was found in a camp in North East Syria in 2019, after the defeat of ISIS.
When she said she wanted to come home to London, the UK government took away her citizenship. That means she no longer has a legal right to return to the UK or hold a British passport.
Shamima has publicly apologised for leaving, said that she regrets her decision and that she thinks she was trafficked to Syria - persuaded to go to the war zone when a teenager (and legally still considered a child), by supporters of the Islamic State. 
But the UK government says she is a threat to the security of the country, did not express regret before her citizenship was taken away and was aware of what ISIS was before she travelled.

Inside Syria

In total, we spent around ten days in North East Syria.
Phil (our shooter/producer), Hisham (our local producer) and I visited the camps now holding thousands of women with suspected links to ISIS. 
They come from all over the world but now find themselves trapped and held there. 
ISIS has been defeated - but some of the governments of the countries these women come from won’t allow them back. 
The authorities told me amongst the 2,660 women and children in the camp, 17 British and 12 Americans are held there.
We talked to women-led deradicalisation organisers, camp authorities and the Syrian Democratic Forces (which now controls this part of Syria) about what should happen next and what is happening right now. 

“I don’t believe in ignoring the problem”

Sevinaz spent time in 2019 working in Roj camp - the camp where Shamima now lives. 
She was part of a deradicalisation programme. Sevinaz focused on writing and helping the women in the camps face what had happened and what they’ve been through. 
Sevinaz is a Syrian Kurdish woman. She suffered huge losses at the hands of ISIS. She's lost loved ones. Her friends have lost loved ones. Part of her country was invaded and occupied by ISIS.
So it can seem difficult to understand why she would want to go into a camp full of ISIS women and support them.

Credit: Sevinaz Evdike [right]

Debate about whether these young women should return home is dominated by individual cases like Shamima from the UK and Hoda Muthana from the US. 
https://d2pmqfxhi6vfg3.cloudfront.net/images/2022-11-22T21:46:24.091Z-Screenshot 2022-11-22 at 21.45.47.png

Credit: [Hoda Muthana/Attorney Hassan Shibly via AP]

Hoda was born in America, where her father had served as a Yemeni diplomat. Her passport was revoked by US courts after she decided to leave for ISIS as a teenager. Her family lawyers have always fought this saying she remains a US citizen. 

“Yes, she’s sorry. And ready to take the consequences”

Sevinaz got to know both Shamima and Hoda well during her time in the camp.
It’s often argued that Shamima knew what she was getting into and doesn’t genuinely regret it. So I wanted to know from Sevinaz, someone who knows her well, what she thought. 

What should happen next?

So what should happen to Shamima, Hoda and the thousands of other women and children held in these camps? 
Four years later the camps are still there - and countries like Australia and Canada are repatriating their citizens. 
Many women have lawyers working for them in their home countries. Some have been repatriated home and put into deradicalisation programmes, others believe they may never leave. 
But the camps have been described as a “ticking time bomb” and the Kurdish authorities have warned they’ll not be able to hold the detainees forever. 
Shamima is fighting a legal case through the British courts. You can read about that here, in an article written by the Associated Press 
We are following the case and will update you all when we have heard all the evidence.
Follow us on Twitter @thenewsmovement and we’ll post the link to the next update there.