An intimate work of journalism examining the fate of ‘ISIS brides’, women lured to Syria and radicalised by the militant group, who now flounder in a Kurdish-run refugee camp, desperate to return home.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
This gripping documentary, directed by Alba Sotorra Clua, captures interviews with a group of so-called ‘ISIS brides’, women who once left everything behind to join ISIS in Syria – but are now desperate to return home.
Hailing from the UK, US, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, the film’s core cast of women are bound by circumstance, stripped of their citizenship, stateless and waiting in limbo in the Roj camp in northeast Syria while lawyers petition their governments to let them come home.
Of the women featured, one had noted rising Islamophobia at home and figured she would be safer in an Islamic State; another was an empty-nester who fell into correspondence with a jihadi online. All sought purpose and community, persuaded by propaganda, only to find themselves trapped in a hellish reality. The media has historically depicted these women as threatening militants who feel no remorse, particularly in the case of infamous UK teenager Shamima Begum, aged only 15 when she left London for Syria with two school friends. Now 19, Begum gives tragic context to her controversial 2019 pro-ISIS remarks and tells her story, for the first time, in her own words.
Crucially, the film also gives voice to the Kurdish social workers left burdened with caring for the Roj camp’s 64,000 women and children, even after having been relentlessly targeted by ISIS themselves. An intimate work of journalism, The Return: Life After ISIS is a searing examination of radicalisation, regret and responsibility. — Amanda Jane Robinson