Shamima Begum loses UK citizenship appeal

·4-min read

Shamima Begum on Wednesday suffered a major blow in her battle to return to the UK as a court rejected her claims that she was unlawfully stripped of her British citizenship.

Judges at the special immigration appeals commission said they did not accept that the Home Office had acted unlawfully in removing Ms Begum’s nationality because she was a trafficking victim when she travelled to Syria with two other Bethnal Green schoolgirls to join Islamic State in 2015.

The court also rejected claims by Ms Begum that the decision to strip her of her citizenship was pre-determined, in breach of equality duties and family rights, and taken without proper consideration of the risk she might pose on her return home.

Mr Justice Jay, the senior judge heading the three-strong panel making the judgment, said seven of the nine grounds used to try to overturn the Home Office’s decision were “technical” and had been dismissed but that the “real merits” of her case was that she had been trafficked into Syria for sexual exploitation.

The judge said, however, that although there was a “credible suspicion” that Ms Begum was a trafficking victim, former home secretary Sajid Javid had not been required to consider this as a factor to be assessed when making his decision to remove her citizenship on national security grounds in 2019.

The judge said the court also believed there was “considerable force” in submissions that the Government’s conclusion that she had travelled voluntarily into Syria was “as stark as it is unsympathetic” and was viewed as “a black and white issue when many would say that there are shades of grey”.

But he said the court was nonetheless unable to substitute its view on whether Ms Begum was trafficked for the Home Secretary’s view that she had travelled voluntarily into Syria to join IS, which was “an integral part of the overall national security assessment carried out by the Security Service [MI5]”.

“In all the circumstances... the Commission has been unable to conclude that the Secretary of State erred in any material respect,” the judge said.

Ms Begum’s lawyer, Daniel Furner said she would appeal the SIAC judgment adding: “The legal fight is nowhere near over.”

Ministers are also under pressure, including from other countries, to accept the return of foreign fighters and other IS supporters held in Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria after the defeat of the terror group.

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.”

Ms Begum has recently been telling her version of her story in a BBC podcast and documentary as part of her attempt to win support for her return.

The judgment is the latest stage in a prolonged saga which began when Ms Begum, then aged 15, left Britain in February 2015 with two friends from her Bethnal Green school, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana on a flight to Turkey and travelled soon after into Syria to join IS.

She married and later had three children, all of whom have died. She emerged back into public view four years later in February 2019 after the defeat of IS in Syria forced her and thousands other of the extremist group’s followers to flee into a Kurdish controlled part of the country, where she remains in a detention camp run by the Kurds.

She was stripped of her British citizenship soon after by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid as a national security risk on the basis that she already had Bangladeshi nationality through her parents and would thus not be left stateless.

The judgment follows a hearing last year at which lawyers for Ms Begum, 23, appealed on nine different grounds against the decision by former Home Secretary Mr Javid to deprive her of her British citizenship.

Ms Begum claimed the decision should be overturned because she was a trafficking victim and had been rendered effectively stateless because of her inability to make use of the Bangladeshi citizenship which the government and courts have said she possess.

She also claimed that deprivation was disproportionate and in breach of the Home Office’s equality duties and her family’s Article 8 rights to a family life.