The Syrian Civil War has been a long and drawn out affair. Most contenders that took arms nearly eight years ago have since faltered and scattered under the boot of the Syrian Government. Assad, after the near annihilation of the Syrian Opposition, is turning his fangs towards the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) with the backing of the Turkish, Russian and Iranian governments. Daesh has been near wiped from the face of the earth in a relentless coalition of forces both local and western and since November 2017 the fledgeling caliphate holds no meaningful territory. As a result of this, the thousands that fled eagerly to join the terror group are now divided and disillusioned; their eyes point in one direction as they move homeward-bound.
Such can be said for Shamima Begum who fled to join the Islamic State back in February 2015 along with two other schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy in London. She was 15 when she boarded a plane to Istanbul and was described by her sister Sahima as being “into normal teenage things” such as watching ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’. After four years of uncertainty around her fate, she has resurfaced in a Syrian refugee camp. Now unveiled, she told a journalist from The Times about her experiences living within the bounds of ISIL’s territory and its de facto capital of Raqqa. In the interview, she talks about being married to a now-deceased Daesh fighter, the deaths of two of her children and the advanced stages of being pregnant with a third. She also reveals being “unfazed” by the sight of a severed head and admitted not feeling regret joining the caliphate, all the while she spoke in a “calm” and “collected” manner. However, now she expresses her desire to return home so that she can give birth to her child, this she is anticipating any day now. Alas, her wishes to return accompanied by her family’s calls for mercy have stoked impassioned debate on whether people like Begum can return home.
The Home Secretary Sajid Javid told The Times “My message is clear, if you have supported terrorist organisations abroad I will not hesitate to prevent your return.”, this steadfast and uncompromising stance has been adopted by many. Mr Javid has also stated that Begum may face prosecution if she arrives on British soil, however, the chances of her return are slim owing to complicated legal measures (such as a Temporary Exclusion Order) that can bar citizens from returning home for a period. But, under international law, it is illegal to leave a person stateless.
On the other hand, there are some figures who make the argument that Begum was a victim of a lengthy grooming process and deserves a chance at redemption. In an article from The Guardian, Michael Segalov argues that Begum had been a “little girl who’d been caught up in a dangerous death cult” and that the war-weary 19-year-old is still a victim of being groomed and a British citizen no less. Begum’s family also have appealed to the Home Secretary to show mercy, they also pointed to her youthful innocence and naivety at the time of her departure.
Thus far Begum is the only one of three girls to have survived their ordeal; Kadiza Sultana was reportedly killed in an airstrike in May 2016 whilst Amira Abase’s fate is less clear, though it is known that her husband was killed in July 2016. The girls were among some 850 British citizens who were drawn to Syria to either fight or support the terror group. However, as the war nears its end many are making the long journey home or filtering into refugee camps. Yet, many more have met their demise in Syria, namely, that of Mohamad Emwazi believed to be the terrorist dubbed Jihadi John, who was killed in a drone strike in November 2015. Begum is just one of 39,000 people currently in a refugee camp in northern Syria.
MI6 head Alex Younger has warned of future IS attacks on British soil as a result of the returning flow of extremists who are now equipped with “dangerous” connections and skills. Younger has made it clear that whilst the situation is currently a “completely manageable problem” the increased influx could derail efforts and be unpredictable.