By Grahame Anderson
Senior Judges have ruled Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to challenge the deprivation of her British citizenship. As a result, the case of the east London schoolgirl who travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group, will continue to divide opinion. She was 15 when she arrived in the country.
Ms Begum claims she married Dutch convert Yago Riedijk, within 10 days of arrival in the IS occupied area. She was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families to join IS.
Now 20, Ms Begum was found in a Syrian refugee camp in February of last year having lived under IS rule for more than three years. She was nine months pregnant at the time, but despite her appeal to be able to come home, then home secretary Sajid Javid revoked her British citizenship on national security grounds later that month. She told The Times newspaper she left Raqqa in January 2017 with her husband, who was reportedly being held in a detention facility in Syria.
At the same time, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) – a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone’s British citizenship on national security grounds –ruled the decision was lawful because Ms Begum was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent” at the time of the decision.
They also cited she “cannot play any meaningful part in her appeal and that, to that extent, the appeal will not be fair and effective.” It ruled “it does not follow that her appeal succeeds”.
In terms of the UK, the decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship is lawful only if the individual is entitled to citizenship of another country.
Home Office Challenge
Ms Begum challenged the Home Office over the decision to refuse to allow her to enter the UK to pursue an appeal, this was also rejected.
Last October her barrister, Tom Hickman QC, said: “she is not considered a national of Bangladesh and was therefore rendered stateless by the deprivation decision”. Ms Begum of course came from a British-Bangladeshi background. He also highlighted conditions in the al-Roj camp where she was being held was “incredibly fragile and dangerous” and breached her human rights.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Abdul Momen said if she did go to Bangladesh after being stripped of her British citizenship she could be hanged for terrorism. He denied she had dual-nationality.
A statement from Ms Begum’s lawyers said the judgement “is an important reminder that fairness and the rule of law”.
Daniel Furner, of Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, said: “Ms Begum is not afraid of facing British justice, she welcomes it. But the stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice – it is the opposite.”
It went on: “Justice cannot be defeated, or indefinitely delayed, because a case is difficult or because national security is engaged. Fundamental rights are not extinguished because a person is abroad, or because the allegations against them are serious.”
Ms Begum lost three children all told in the camp.
Maya Foa, director of not-for-profit organisation Reprieve, calling for all Brits held in camps in north east Syria to be repatriated to the UK, said after the ruling: ‘It was always unsafe and unjust to make Brits in Syria someone else’s problem.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation, said the ruling was the ‘right decision and British citizens should welcome it’.
Some people say bringing her back to Britain is a threat to the security of the country, and she must live with the outcome of her actions – others believe with human rights at play the UK should not back away from administering justice for any alleged crimes she may have committed.
The move could now open the door for other IS brides to make similar bids to return to Britain. Figures reveal her lawyers have claimed £14,500 in legal aid trying to win back her UK citizenship – but sources say the public bill could be at least £30,000.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This is a very disappointing decision by the Court. We will now apply for permission to appeal this judgement, and to stay its effects pending any onward appeal.
“The Government’s top priority remains maintaining our national security and keeping the public safe.”
Asian Sunday would like to hear both sides of the debate from readers – is the court ruling the right outcome or should Ms Begum live with the consequences of her earlier actions?