The Biden administration is said to be “bemused and infuriated” with Britain’s refusal to bring back Islamic State fighters and their families from Syria.
British security officials have also warned that the “trust of the UK’s suitability as a security partner has been eroded considerably due to lacklustre policy”.
A report released by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on trafficked Britons in Syria also reveals failures by public bodies, including the police and local authorities, which enabled Isis to lure vulnerable British women and girls to its caliphate.
It also warns that the government’s approach in stripping the citizenship of women held in northeast Syria is exposing them to serious risk, as well as contributing to the “unlawful detention” of their children.
There are approximately 20 British families detained in camps in northeast Syria, comprising about 50 people. Half are believed to be children.
The government has brought back a small number of orphans of citizens but has refused to allow fighters and their families to return, citing the security risk. In contrast the US has repatriated dozens of Americans who joined the terror group, warning that the squalid camps in Syria are spawning a new generation of extremists.
US authorities believe that not repatriating Isis fighters harms regional stability and the security of the West because the camps are ungoverned and they can mix with other radicals.
Andrew Mitchell, the co-chairman of the APPG, told The Times: “We are at odds with our key allies on repatriation. It undermines our reputation on the UN Security Council and as a global leader on issues of peace and security. It is causing friction, not least with the US because they think it harms the global efforts to fight terrorism.”
John Godfrey, America’s acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, told the APPG that stripping of citizenship and refusing to allow people to return simply “defers the problem”. He warns it “puts the burden on local partners and the international community, which has neither the mandate nor the tools needed to successfully resolve such cases”.
He said: “The US government urges countries of origin to repatriate, reintegrate and, where appropriate, prosecute and incarcerate foreign fighters and their family members.”
Richard Barrett, a former director of global counterterrorism operations at MI6, told the APPG: “American leaders have been bemused and infuriated with the UK’s intractability”.
The APPG report concludes that evidence suggests many British nationals currently detained in northeast Syria may be victims of human trafficking.
It has seen evidence that “girls and women in particular were taken to Syria by coercive means and were subjected to sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and other forms of exploitation at the hands of Isis”.
The APPG warns that the authorities “repeatedly failed” young women. It outlined an anonymous example where police, the local authority, and school and health professionals were aware of domestic violence within a family, and that the father had suddenly taken the children out of school. It was a month later, when the family were already in Syria, that the council raised “safeguarding concerns”.
The report also accuses Special Branch officers stationed at airports of failing to intervene and stop young women including Shamima Begum, the Bethnal Green schoolgirl who travelled with two friends to Isis in 2015. The government has stripped her of citizenship and she is being held in a Kurdish-run facility. Begum married an Isis fighter.
Mitchell said: “She was trafficked for sex at 15. In any other walk of life we would want to protect her and yet we demonise her. If she has committed any offence, she should face due process in British law.”
The report warns that British nationals, including children and victims of trafficking, are “arbitrarily and unlawfully detained in detention facilities, in conditions that are degrading and present an imminent threat to their lives and wellbeing”.
A government spokesman said: “Our priority is to ensure the safety and security of the UK. Those who remain in the conflict zone include some of the most dangerous individuals, choosing to stay to fight or otherwise support Daesh. Daesh still remains our most significant terrorist threat at home and abroad.
“The situation in northeast Syria is clearly very complex with significant humanitarian and security concerns. We continue to work with international partners to support camps in Syria, funding the provision of lifesaving supplies including food, water, healthcare and shelter.”