Shamima Begum has again asked Britain to give her a second chance and let her return, six years after she travelled to join the so-called Islamic State (IS).
In an interview from the refugee camp in Syria where she now lives, she said: “I would say to the people in the UK, give me a second chance because I was still young when I left.
“I just want them to put aside everything they’ve heard about me in the media,” she told filmmakers, according to France24.
Begum’s plea comes as the Biden administration urged America’s western allies to repatriate foreign fighters and their families from Syria – warning that violent refugee camps are creating a new generation of extremists.
In 2015, Begum was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green in east London who left the UK to join IS.
Last month the Supreme Court ruled that she cannot return to Britain to appeal against the removal of her British citizenship, which was revoked on national security grounds shortly after she was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
Begum, now 21, had challenged the Home Office’s decision to remove her citizenship – and wants to be allowed to return to the UK to pursue her appeal.
In the interview, she recalled feeling like an “outsider” in London who wanted to “help the Syrians” – but on arrival quickly realised IS was “trapping people” to boost the so-called caliphate’s numbers and “look good for the [propaganda] videos”, France24 reported.
The documentary, The Return: Life After Isis, made by Alba Sotorra Clua, was premiered online at South By Southwest festival.
Meanwhile John Godfrey, special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat Isis, said that victory over the jihadists would be squandered if western nations refused to take responsibility for repatriating and – ultimately – prosecuting their citizens who remain in the camps.
“This is an international problem that requires an international solution,” he said, adding that 2,000 foreign fighters were still held by Kurdish forces in detention centres in northeastern Syria.
As many as 10,000 of the fighters’ relatives – mostly women and children, like Begum – are housed in guarded displacement camps.
“One of the most troubling and potentially dangerous aspects of this . . . is that a number of those children either claim to or already have European citizenship,” Godfrey said.
“And so there is the concern that down the road they could end up being able to go to other places and potentially do bad things.”
Between 35 and 50 British children are estimated to still be in the camp, along with scores of adults – despite US and Kurdish authorities’ attempts to persuade states to take them back.
An estimated 900 Britons travelled to Syria or Iraq to join IS; one-in-five have been confirmed dead, while two-in-five have returned home. The remainder are either missing or held in detention centres and camps.
The threat posed by IS is far from over, Godfrey admitted. “Isis does continue to constitute a significant security threat, both to local partners in Syria as well as more broadly to the region, particularly across border into Iraq, and even beyond that, ranging farther afield to Europe and potentially to North America,” he said.
“One of the reasons for that is there continues to be a cadre of capable Isis actors in Syria who have experience with plotting attacks further afield, and who we assess retain aspirations to continue doing that.”
Orlaith Minogue, senior conflict and humanitarian adviser for Save the Children, said that ongoing efforts to uncover IS sleeper cells was “a visceral reminder that the children within are living in a dangerous and unpredictable environment.
“Save the Children calls on all countries of origin to do the right thing by their children and bring them home, so they can recover and recuperate in a place of safety.”