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ISIS: British People

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have regarding British people who joined ISIS and are now being held in custody by the Kurds.

My Lords, I hope that the House will indulge me for a moment: I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the 39 people killed today in Grays, and that we wish to convey our condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives.

Those who have fought for or supported Daesh should, wherever possible, face justice for their crimes in the most appropriate jurisdiction, which is often in the region where they committed their offences. We will continue to pursue all available avenues with international partners in seeking justice and accountability for those who have fought alongside Daesh.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that we are talking about British people who were born, brought up and educated here, and who now find themselves in Kurdish custody—possibly not even certain custody as they might again come under ISIS’s control? Surely we have a responsibility to people educated in this country to bring them back, expose them to the full force of the law and have them prosecuted here, rather than leaving them to fester in the dangerous situation in the region.

My Lords, we have no intention of letting people fester, but the noble Lord will appreciate the fact that we obviously have no consular access so it is difficult to bring people to justice at the moment. We are in discussion with our international partners about what a suitable solution would look like, with agreement from those partners, in bringing people to justice.

My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that, when a passport is revoked, a person is not left stateless? Does she accept that having a possible claim in another country, based on parental birth or residence, is not necessarily the same as being a citizen of that other country? On a personal note, my mother was born in Dublin so I have a possible claim to Irish citizenship. However, I am not an Irish citizen so if my UK passport was revoked, I would be stateless—which I, at least, would regard as unfortunate.

Sorry, that was a bit of a Brexit dig. When the Home Secretary makes the decision to revoke someone’s citizenship, they may not render that person stateless. They must, therefore, take legal advice at the time, which they are doing. I know the exact point that my noble friend makes but the Home Secretary cannot render someone stateless.

My Lords, will the Minister address the issue of the British orphans in the part of Syria that is now under attack? What are the Government doing? Does she recognise that there is real urgency here because if the truce is being extended for a bit, as was reported today, that could provide an opportunity to get some of these children at least as far as Iraq on their way back here, where they ought to be?

I not only recognise but acknowledge and agree with the noble Lord’s point. I appreciate the time that we had to talk about some of these difficult issues. Where a child is a British citizen, we will work with partners to try to find a safe route to return them to this country, as he says.

My Lords, is it not a principle of British justice that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty in a legitimate court of law? On the basis of what evidence are these British nationals denied entry to the UK or even denied British citizenship? Should the UK not do what almost every other country is doing and repatriate its nationals, albeit to face trial if necessary?

My Lords, different countries have different approaches. I am aware of what they are doing. Where the noble Lord talks about being innocent until proven guilty, I assume that he means people who have gone to Syria to fight. He is right to say that these people should be brought to justice, and that is why we are having conversations with our international partners to look at the best method to work this out in an internationally agreed way.

My Lords, is there not a real danger both of orphaned children and of adults, if we allow them, being recruited again and retrained either by ISIL or other groups; being given false papers, as they would be; and being able to travel to other countries in the world, including the United Kingdom, to carry out terrorist acts? This is not just a humanitarian issue; it is also one of the security of this and every other country. We need to do something fast.

I agree about the dangers of the recruitment of children and the dangers of them being left. I hope that I made clear in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, some of the things we are trying to do to ensure that children who are British citizens are returned home safely. We absolutely recognise the real danger and that is why urgent conversations are going on, some of which I simply cannot discuss at the Dispatch Box.

My Lords, if the Government propose to take only British children and not their British mothers, what assessment have they made of the probable fate of those mothers?

The noble Baroness would have to describe in what context we would not take their mothers, but I think that I have been quite clear in explaining about children who are orphaned or have been left in the region without anyone.