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UK-born woman who joined Islamic State loses appeal over citizenship removal

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) -A British-born woman who went to Syria as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State lost her latest appeal on Friday over the removal of her British citizenship.

The British government took away Shamima Begum's citizenship on national security grounds in 2019, shortly after she was found in a detention camp in Syria.

Begum, now 24, argued the decision was unlawful, in part because British officials failed to properly consider whether she was a victim of trafficking, an argument that was rejected by a lower court in February 2023.

The Court of Appeal in London rejected her appeal on Friday following an appeal in October.

Judge Sue Carr said: "It could be argued that the decision in Ms Begum's case was harsh. It could also be argued that Ms Begum is the author of her own misfortune.

"But it is not for this court to agree or disagree with either point of view. Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation decision was unlawful.

"We have concluded it was not and the appeal is dismissed."

The government welcomed the ruling.

"Our priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK and we will robustly defend any decision made in doing so," a spokesperson for the interior ministry said.

Begum's lawyers called on Britain to repatriate her and others who remain in Syria, describing the refusal to do so as "disgraceful".

"Every other country has taken their nationals back – France, Germany, Belgium, America, Canada, Australia," Begum's lawyer, Gareth Peirce, told reporters.

"Every country in a comparable position has seen that there is no alternative but to take their nationals back. The UK stands now virtually alone."

Britain has repatriated 17 individuals since 2019 as of December, according human rights organisation Rights and Security International.

Daniel Furner, another of Begum's lawyers, said: "I want to say that I'm sorry to Shamima and to her family that, after five years of fighting, she still hasn't received justice in a British court and to promise her and promise the government that we are not going to stop fighting until she does get justice and until she is safely back home."

HEATED DEBATE

Friday's ruling is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle, though Peirce said she needed time to properly read the ruling before a decision is taken on whether to seek permission to appeal.

In 2020, the Court of Appeal had ruled that Begum should be allowed to return to Britain in order to fairly challenge the removal of her citizenship. But that decision was overturned by the Supreme Court the following year.

Begum's case has been the subject of heated debate between those who argue she willingly joined a terrorist group and others who say she was a child when she left, or should face justice for any alleged crimes in Britain.

She left London in 2015, aged 15, and travelled with two school friends to Syria, where she married an IS fighter and gave birth to three children, all of whom died as infants.

Begum has been in the al-Roj camp since 2019, with thousands of other foreign women and children.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin, editing by William James and Nick Macfie)