Shamima Begum loses legal case over return to UK


Shamima Begum, who left London when she was 15 to travel to Syria and join Islamic State, has lost a legal case over her British citizenship, meaning she will not be able to return to the UK.

Begum had her British citizenship stripped from her in 2019, on national security grounds by then-home secretary Sajid Javid.

Now aged 23, Begum brought a challenge against the Home Office over the decision to revoke her citizenship, however, it was dismissed by a specialist tribunal.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) concluded there was “credible suspicion” that Begum was trafficked to Syria for “sexual exploitation” and that there were “arguable breaches of duty” by state bodies in allowing her to travel to the country.

But Mr Justice May said in a summary of the decision that the existence of this suspicion was “insufficient” for her to succeed on her arguments that the deprivation of her British citizenship failed to respect her human rights, adding that given she was now in Syria, the home secretary was not compelled to facilitate her return nor stopped from using “deprivation powers”.

The Home Office has said it is “pleased” with the ruling, while Mr Javid said he “welcomes” it. Begum remains in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

Shamima Begum. Pic: ITV/Shutterstock
Begum and two other east London schoolgirls travelled to Syria to join IS in 2015. Pic: ITV/Shutterstock

At the five-day tribunal hearing last year, Begum’s lawyers said that she was “recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ to an adult male”.

They also argued that the Home Office unlawfully failed to consider that she travelled to Syria and remained there “as a victim of child trafficking”.

It has repeatedly asserted she would be a threat to public safety if she is allowed to return to the UK.

On Wednesday, the appeal was dismissed on all nine grounds even though SIAC found there was a “credible suspicion” that Begum had been trafficked to Syria.

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Begum case ‘nowhere near over’, says lawyer

Giving the decision of the tribunal, Mr Justice Jay said that “reasonable people will differ” over the circumstances of Begum’s case.

In its ruling, the panel said: “Essentially, and from the perspective of those responsible for the trafficking, the motive for bringing her to Syria was sexual exploitation to which, as a child, she could not give a valid consent”.

The commission recognised the “considerable force” in submissions advanced on behalf of Begum that the Home Secretary’s conclusion that she travelled voluntarily to Syria was “as stark as it is unsympathetic”.

Begum’s looking for a way out of strange purgatory but it looks like this is where she’ll stay

Since Shamima Begum emerged from the ashes of the so-called “ISIS Caliphate” in 2019, she has been in a Syrian detention camp and what she describes as “an unending sentence” that is “worse than prison”.

It seems that is where she will stay.

Lawyers for Begum essentially tried to make this a moral question and that rather than being seen as a traitor and a threat to the UK, she was more a manipulated schoolgirl, who was groomed into bad choices, in the same way, children groomed into county lines drug dealing are now recognised as victims of modern slavery.

Her lawyers have argued that when Sajid Javid revoked her citizenship, he had not taken into account that she was “a trafficked person,” for the purpose of sexual exploitation as an ISIS Bride.

The court was also told that she had been left ‘stateless’ and would face the death penalty if sent to Bangladesh, her parents’ country of origin.

However, government lawyers told the hearing that she went to Syria with her “eyes wide open” and that whatever the circumstances Begum remained a threat to the UK.

Today the special immigration appeals commission agreed with them.

Shamima is just one of many who had been looking for a way out of this strange purgatory. More than 100 people were stripped of their citizenship after going to Syria or Iraq to join the terrorist organisation.

Even if she had been able to reverse the decision it is worth remembering that several British women detained in Syria still have British citizenship but have not been repatriated.

Mr Justice Jay said: “Further, there is some merit in the argument that those advising the Secretary of State see this as a black and white issue, when many would say that there are shades of grey.”

Speaking after the ruling one of Begum’s lawyers, Daniel Furner, said the legal fight is “nowhere near over”, while lawyer Gareth Pierce added that “there’s no limit to the challenges” that can be undertaken.

Begum and two other east London schoolgirls travelled to Turkey and then to Syria to join the Islamic State terror group in February 2015.

In 2019, she was found at a Syrian refugee camp nine months pregnant and told the media she wished to return to Britain, the country where she was born.

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‘Begum appeal decision a surprise’

In a statement, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “The government’s priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK and we will robustly defend any decision made in doing so.”

Read more:
Shamima Begum says she ‘didn’t hate Britain’ when she fled
Begum’s mother says her ‘world fell apart’ when she joined ISIS

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, described the Shamima Begum ruling as a “very disappointing decision”.

When Sky News last spoke to Begum in 2021 in Syria, she said she didn’t hate the UK, just her life at the time she left to join IS, and described living under the caliphate as “hell, hell on earth”.

Begum rejected accusations she carried out atrocities as part of IS as “all completely false”. She also added she expected to go to prison if she was allowed back into the UK.

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