Shamima Begum cannot return to UK after losing appeal against citizenship removal
The decision to remove Shamima Begum’s British citizenship was lawful, a court has ruled despite finding that she may have been trafficked for sexual exploitation by Isis.
In the latest stage of the former Isis bride’s legal battle against the government, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) had considered arguments that she was made “de facto stateless”.
A summary of the judgment said there was “credible suspicion” that Begum had been trafficked to Syria for sexual exploitation as a child, and “arguable breaches of duty” by state bodies who failed to protect her from radicalisation and stop her from leaving the UK.
But the court found that those factors were not a bar to citizenship deprivation, and that issues around whether Begum travelled to Syria voluntarily and poses a threat “are for the secretary of state to evaluate and not for the commission”.
Mr Justice Jay said the SIAC had found the case to be “of great concern and difficulty”, and that its judgments had been “finely balanced”.
“We have sought to examine this issue as carefully and closely as we have been able to,” he added.
“Ultimately, the commission has not been able to conclude … that the secretary of state’s judgement that the risk to national security outweighs her personal interests is wrong in public law terms.”
The judgment, which could be appealed by Begum, means that she has no prospect of being returned to the UK from a detention camp where she is being held with women and children captured during the fall of Isis territories.
Begum’s lawyers said they would urgently pursue “every possible avenue to challenge this decision”, and that court’s “troubling findings” showed it should be reviewed.
In a statement, Gareth Pierce and Daniel Furner, of Birnberg Pierce Solicitors, said: “The outcome is that there is now no protection for a British child trafficked out of the UK if the home secretary invokes national security.
“Regrettably, this is a lost opportunity to put into reverse a profound mistake and a continuing injustice.”
Begum travelled to Syria with two other girls from Bethnal Green Academy aged 15 in February 2015, just months after another teenage girl from the school made the same journey following contact with a female Isis recruiter.
She and her friends were spoken to by police because of their link to Sharmeena Begum, who was not a relation, but her relatives were not told.
Officers gave a letter warning of Sharmeena’s departure to the three girls and other Bethnal Green Academy pupils, but they did not pass it on to their parents before fleeing the UK.
At a hearing in November, Begum’s lawyers argued that the government did not formally assess whether she was a victim of trafficking before putting her in “exile for life”.
They told the court that the 23-year-old was “groomed” for the purpose of having sex with adult fighters and bearing their children.
Begum's first two children died as infants and the third, born shortly after she was found by a journalist in a detention camp in 2019, died at less than three weeks old.
At a previous hearing in February 2020, SIAC ruled that the decision to remove her British citizenship was lawful as Begum was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent”, but her lawyers said she had been made “de facto stateless”.
Then-home secretary Sajid Javid was accused of acting with “extreme speed” by removing her nationality four days after The Times published an interview with Begum in a detention camp.
But lawyers representing the Home Office had argued that there were no errors of law in Mr Javid's decision and that the government did not accept Begum was trafficked.
Sir James Eadie KC said in written submissions that the security services “continue to assess that Begum poses a risk to national security”.
An MI5 officer, known only as witness E, told SIAC the service had made a national security assessment regarding Begum and that it “recognises that victims can very much be a threat, if indeed someone is a victim of trafficking”.
When asked whether MI5 had sought any expert advice before reaching its conclusion that Begum had travelled to Syria voluntarily, he added: “In my mind, it is not conceivable that an intelligent and articulate 15-year-old could not know what Isis was doing, so in some respects yes, I do believe she would have known what she was doing and had agency in doing so.”
SIAC heard that the government had confirmed that a man called Mohammed al-Rashed transported Begum and two school friends across the Turkey-Syria border on 20 February 2015.
A book by Richard Kerbaj alleged that he was passing intelligence to Canadian intelligence services at the time but the UK has not confirmed the claim, or whether British authorities were passed any information before Begum reached Syria.
Maya Foa, director of legal charity Reprieve, said the case was part of a wider “racist citizenship stripping policy”.
“Britain is the only G20 country that strips citizenship in bulk and the last of our allies refusing to repatriate its nationals from north-east Syria,” she added.
“Each time one of our allies brings its nationals home, as France, Spain, Australia and Canada have done in recent months, it shows up the UK government’s policy for what it really is: a political posture, more concerned with headlines than British lives.”
Amnesty International UK said Begum had been left trapped “in a war-torn country and left largely at the mercy of gangs and armed groups”, and argued that anyone suspected of terror offences should be returned to their home countries for investigation and potential prosecution.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the court has found in favour of the government’s position in this case.
“The government’s priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK and we will robustly defend any decision made in doing so.”