Shamima Begum loses first stage of citizenship challenge

7 February 2020, 08:48

Shamima Begum left the UK for Syria in February 2015
Shamima Begum left the UK for Syria in February 2015. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

ISIS bride Shamima Begum has lost the first stage of a legal challenge against the decision to revoke her British citizenship.

Begum, now 20, left the UK in February 2015 and lived under IS rule for more than three years. She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February last year.

She was one of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria to join so-called Islamic State.

Former home secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her British citizenship in February 2019.

Last year, Begum took legal action against the Home Office at the High Court and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone's British citizenship on national security grounds.

Begum's lawyers have argued that this decision was unlawful as it rendered her stateless, and such a decision is only lawful if an individual is entitled to citizenship of another country.

Today's tribunal, led by SIAC president Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing, is due to deliver its ruling on whether the deprivation decision rendered Begum stateless in London on Friday morning.

The Begum family want their daughter to be able to return to the UK
The Begum family want their daughter to be able to return to the UK. Picture: PA

The judgment is also expected to determine whether Begum is able to have a fair and effective appeal from outside the UK, and whether the decision to revoke her British citizenship exposed her to a "real risk" of torture or death.

At a hearing in October, her barrister Tom Hickman QC said the situation in the al-Roj camp in which Ms Begum was then being held was "incredibly fragile and dangerous", and described conditions at the camp, where Ms Begum's third child died last March, as "wretched and squalid".

Mr Hickman argued that Begum, who is of British-Bangladeshi heritage, "is not considered a national of Bangladesh and was therefore rendered stateless by the deprivation decision".

He also 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 returning 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.

Jonathan Glasson QC, for the Home Office, argued that Ms Begum "was a Bangladeshi citizen by descent, in accordance with Bangladeshi law, and so was not rendered stateless by the deprivation decision".

He also submitted that Ms Begum "has not been placed at risk of ill-treatment" as a result of the decision to revoke her British citizenship.

"Any risk that the appellant does face arose, and continues to persist, as the result of the appellant having travelled to Syria and aligned with (IS) and is wholly unrelated to the deprivation decision," he added.

Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase
Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase. Picture: PA

The disappearance of three British schoolgirls who fled the UK to travel to Syria to join so-called Islamic State in February 2015 made headlines around the world.

Kadiza Sultana, then 16, and Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both then 15, were all pupils at Bethnal Green Academy in east London when they left their homes and families to join IS, shortly after their friend Sharmeena Begum, who is no relation, travelled to Syria in December 2014.

Ms Begum, then aged 15, was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families to join IS, shortly after Sharmeena Begum - who is no relation - travelled to Syria in December 2014.

Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Ms Begum boarded a flight from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, on February 17 2015, before making their way to Raqqa in Syria.

Ms Begum claims she married Dutch convert Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in IS territory, with all three of her schoolfriends also reportedly marrying foreign IS fighters.

She told The Times last February that she left Raqqa in January 2017 with her husband but her children, a one-year-old girl and a three-month-old boy, had both since died.

Her third child died shortly after he was born.

Sultana was reportedly killed in an air strike in 2016, while Abase and Sharmeena Begum's current whereabouts are unknown.

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