Managing Syria returnees: The options available

Shamima Begum (far-right) before catching a flight to Turkey in 2015 to join the Islamic State group Credit: Met Police/PA

The Shamima Begum case has prompted fresh questions about how the UK manages those returning or attempting to come back from Syria. But what options do authorities have in such instances?

Home Secretary Sajid Javid Credit: PA
  • Arrest and prosecution

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said those who make it back “should be ready to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted”.

But authorities have faced difficulties obtaining evidence to prove someone committed crimes in Syria. Figures disclosed in the Commons last year suggested that only around one in 10 returnees has been prosecuted over “direct action” in Syria, although ministers say a significant proportion of those who have come back were assessed as no longer being of national security concern.

New legislation which passed earlier this week made it an offence to enter or remain in overseas terror hotspots, officially termed “designated areas”.

  • Managed return

Powers known as temporary exclusion orders (TEOs) were introduced in 2015. They can last for up to two years and can be imposed on those suspected of involvement in terrorism abroad, making it unlawful for them to return to the UK without engaging with authorities. The powers were unused in 2016, while nine TEOs were issued in 2017.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Credit: PA
  • Removal of citizenship

In cases where the Government determines that such action is “conducive to the public good”, it can deprive an individual of their British citizenship. The power can be used in a range of circumstances, including national security cases. Figures for 2017 show that 104 people were deprived of their citizenship – up from 14 in the previous year.

The Government is barred from using the powers if it would render someone stateless, except if the individual was naturalised as a British citizen and is believed to be able to acquire citizenship of another country. Former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile has said the UK would have to re-admit Ms Begum if she has no other nationality.

Shamima Begum, pictured going through security at Gatwick airport in 2015 Credit: PA
  • TPIMs

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) allow the Home Secretary to impose a range of disruptive measures on individuals who are suspected of posing a threat to security but who cannot be prosecuted, or, in the case of foreign nationals, deported.

Restrictions can include relocation to another part of the country, electronic monitoring and limits on the use of phones and computers. As of the end of August, six TPIMs were in force.

Prevent is backed by ministers and police Credit: PA
  • Deradicalisation

Returnees could be referred to the Government’s £40 million a year Prevent programme, which aims to stop people being drawn into terrorism.

There were 7,318 individuals referred to Prevent in 2017/18. In most cases, referrals are found to require no further action or passed to other services, but when authorities conclude there is a danger the person could be drawn into terrorism, they can be supported through a voluntary scheme known as Channel.

Prevent is backed by ministers and police, but has been described as “toxic” by critics, and the Government announced earlier this year that it would be independently reviewed.