Shamima Begum was influenced by a “determined and effective Isis propaganda machine” and should have been treated as a child trafficking victim, a court has heard.
Ms Begum, now 23, was 15 when she and two other east London schoolgirls travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State group in February 2015.
Her British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds shortly after she was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
Ms Begum is challenging the Home Office’s decision to remove her British citizenship, with her lawyers arguing that the Home Office had a legal duty to investigate whether Ms Begum was a victim of trafficking when her citizenship was revoked.
At the start of a five-day hearing at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) on Monday, Samantha Knights KC, for Ms Begum, said: “This case concerns a British child aged 15 who was persuaded, influenced and affected with her friends by a determined and effective Isis propaganda machine.”
In written submissions, Ms Knights said there was “overwhelming” evidence that Ms Begum had been “recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ to an adult male”.
“She was following a well-known pattern by which Isis cynically recruited and groomed female children, as young as 14, so that they could be offered as ‘wives’ to adult men,” the barrister added.
Her lawyers said that the Home Office deprived Ms Begum of her citizenship “without seeking to investigate and determine, still less consider, whether she was a child victim of trafficking, and whether there were failures by public authorities in the UK to prevent her being trafficked”.
Ms Knights continued: “What evidence is available shows that rather than viewing the appellant as a victim, a child that was manipulated and exploited, the Home Secretary proceeded on the basis that she acted ‘voluntarily’ in travelling to Syria and aligning with Isis.”
Ms Begum’s lawyers argued that the Home Office have unlawfully failed to consider that she travelled to Syria and remained there “as a victim of child trafficking”.
Ms Knights later told the court that the then-home secretary Sajid Javid was “over-hasty” in depriving Ms Begum of her citizenship, describing it as “effectively an exile for life”.
Ms Begum is also challenging the removal of her British citizenship on the grounds that it made her “de facto stateless” and that the decision was predetermined.
Sir James Eadie KC, for the Home Office, said in written submissions that the Security Services “continue to assess that Ms Begum poses a risk to national security”.
“This is a case about national security,” he said, later adding: “This is not a case about trafficking.”
Sir James said that Ms Begum “travelled, aligned and stayed in Syria for four years” and that she only left IS-controlled territory for safety reasons “and not because of a genuine disengagement from the group”.
He continued: “When she did emerge, and gave multiple press interviews shortly before the Secretary of State decided to deprive her of her citizenship, she expressed no remorse and said she did not regret joining Isil, acknowledging that she was aware of the nature of the group when she travelled.”
Sir James said that Mr Javid was aware of Ms Begum’s “age and circumstances of her travel to Syria” when he made the decision to deprive her of her British citizenship.
“He properly considered those circumstances when evaluating the risk to national security she posed,” the barrister added.
The hearing, before Mr Justice Jay, is due to finish on Friday with a ruling expected at a later date.