AT AN EVIDENCE SESSION for an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficked Britons in Syria, former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Ken Macdonald described the Government’s treatment of British nationals in North-East Syria (NES) as “a coward’s form of Guantánamo”, adding that the Government’s policy appears to be “let someone else run your Guantánamo and then have the use of it without dirtying your hands too much”.
He described the fact that the UK has not repatriated the “scores of demonstrably innocent people” in Syria as a “blot on our conscience”, including British children and their mothers who were trafficked there, some of whom were trafficked when they were themselves children.
Lord Macdonald described the fact that the US has prosecuted some British nationals instead of the UK as an “embarrassment”, asking “have we lost so much confidence in ourselves?” He described this “denial of responsibility” as “demeaning” and a “denial of sovereignty”. Where British nationals have committed offences, Lord Macdonald stated he had “no doubt at all” that the British authorities would be able to prosecute them.
Chris Harnisch, former Deputy Coordinator for the US State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, advocated that the UK repatriate its nationals from NES, as the US has done, stating that a refusal to repatriate “plays into the hands of terrorists” and “will make all of us less safe”. He added that “the most important single reason why countries should repatriate their nationals from Syria is to prevent a re-emergence of this caliphate”.
Shahzad Akbar, Federal Minister and Advisor to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior, Government of Pakistan, described citizenship stripping as a “very self-centred approach to a global problem…it’s a policy of making your problem, someone else’s problem.” Jussi Tanner, Ambassador, Special Envoy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, told the APPG about Finland having repatriated its nationals from Syria, saying “the only choice we really have is when and how, not if”.
Speaking about why the United States decided to repatriate its nationals in the camps, Chris Harnisch, Former Deputy Coordinator for the US State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, said: “We took this approach because it was the right thing to do from a human rights perspective, and because it was the right thing to do from a security perspective. Today I want to focus on the security reasons for why countries should repatriate their nationals from camps run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. Our nations made great sacrifices alongside the SDF in both blood and treasure to destroy the Islamic State’s caliphate… The most important single reason why countries should repatriate their nationals from Syria is to prevent a re-emergence of this caliphate. ISIL leadership has made it very clear that it views the men, women and children in the SDF prisons and displaced persons camps as strategic assets.”
Lord MacDonald added: “I think it’s demeaning to the British state to be washing its hands of its own citizens, its own residents, people who have more connection with this country than with any other. There’s a lot of talk of national sovereignty and I believe in national sovereignty as much as the next person but denying your responsibility for your own citizens in this sort of situation seems to me to be a denial of your sovereignty and I think it’s demeaning and I think it’s an extraordinarily bad place for the British state to find itself, particularly in circumstances where we have a justice system that is generally reckoned to be as robust as any in the world and something we have always taken pride in.”
* Source: Reprieve