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Isis bride Shamima Begum has been exposed to the “real risk” of torture or death by having her British citizenship revoked, a court has heard.
Ms Begum, now 20, fled the UK in February 2015 and lived under Isis rule for more than three years. She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February this year.
Former home secretary Sajid Javid then revoked her British citizenship, a decision her lawyers argue was unlawful as it rendered her stateless.
Ms Begum is bringing proceedings against the Home Office before the High Court and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a specialist court which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone’s British citizenship on national security grounds.
At the start of a four-day preliminary hearing in London on Tuesday, Tom Hickman QC told Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing that the situation in the al-Roj camp in Syria in which Ms Begum is currently being held is “incredibly fragile and dangerous”.
In written submissions, he described conditions at the camp, where Ms Begum’s third child died in March, as “wretched and squalid”, adding that “the tragic death of the appellant’s infant child... demonstrates that fact”.
The court is being asked to determine “whether the deprivation decision rendered the applicant stateless”. The Home Office says the decision does not.
Ms Begum claims she had been brainwashed by Isis and that she wanted to return to the UK for a “second chance”. Her legal team say she is the victim of rape at the hands of her terrorist husband.
Her family’s lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, told the Daily Mirror: “She was married in an Isis ceremony within two weeks of reaching Syria to a 23-year-old fighter. Her context is as a rape victim, or a statutory rape victim.”
In court on Tuesday, Mr Hickman said Ms Begum – who is of British-Bangladeshi heritage – “is not considered a national of Bangladesh and was therefore rendered stateless by the deprivation decision”.
He submitted that the Bangladeshi courts “would determine that the appellant did not automatically acquire Bangladeshi citizenship having been born outside Bangladesh as a UK citizen by birth”.
He referred to evidence from an expert in Bangladeshi law, who says that it is “nearly impossible that any court in Bangladesh would rule against the government”, which has publicly denied Ms Begum is a citizen of Bangladesh.
Mr Hickman said the court also had to decide “whether the deprivation decision gave rise to a real risk of death or degrading and inhuman treatment”.
He submitted that conditions in al-Roj – and in the al-Hawl camp from which Ms Begum was moved for her own safety in February – breached Ms Begum’s human rights.
Mr Hickman added that the decision “had the effect – and was designed – to prevent” Ms Begum from return to the UK, leaving her “abandoned” in a detention camp.
This, he added, meant Ms Begum “cannot have a fair and effective appeal” as she is unable to speak confidentially with her lawyers or to give evidence in support of her appeal.
Mr Hickman said SIAC “will not be considering the national security case against the appellant or the proportionality of the decision to deprive her of citizenship”.
Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing is expected to reserve her judgment.
Ms Begum, then aged 15, was one of three schoolgirls – along with Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase – from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families in February 2015 to join a fourth Bethnal Green schoolgirl, Sharmeena Begum, who had left London in 2014, in Syria.
In February, Ms Begum was found by The Times, nine months pregnant, at a refugee camp, telling the newspaper that she would “do anything required just to be able to come home”.
Ms Begum said she was married 10 days after arriving in Raqqa to a Dutchman who had converted to Islam, Yago Riedijk, who she claimed was later arrested, charged with spying and tortured.
Three children died
She eventually left Raqqa in January 2017 with her husband but her children, a girl aged a year and nine months old and a three-month-old boy, both died.
Her third child, a son, also died shortly after he was born.
Ms Begum told The Times she had “mostly” lived a “normal life in Raqqa, every now and then bombing and stuff”.
She added: “But when I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam. I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance.”
The Home Office revoked her British citizenship later in February – a decision which is only lawful if it did not leave Ms Begum stateless.
It was speculated at the time that Ms Begum may have Bangladeshi citizenship, but Bangladesh’s minister of state for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam has denied this.
‘Keep our country safe’
Home secretary Priti Patel said last month that Ms Begum would not be able to return to the UK, saying: “Our job is to keep our country safe.
“We don’t need people who have done harm and left our country to be part of a death cult and to perpetrate that ideology.
“We cannot have people who would do us harm allowed to enter our country – and that includes this woman.
“Everything I see in terms of security and intelligence, I am simply not willing to allow anybody who has been an active supporter or campaigner for IS in this country.”