Issued on: Modified:
London (AFP) – A woman stripped of her British citizenship after travelling to Syria as a teenager to marry an Islamic State group fighter on Wednesday lost her legal battle to reverse the decision.
The ruling from Judge Robert Jay means that Shamima Begum, 23, cannot return to the UK from her current home in a refugee camp in northern Syria.
While the court determined the decision was for the government to make, it also said that some of Begum’s arguments had merit.
Begum was aged 15 when she left her east London home for Syria with two school friends in 2015. While there, she married an IS fighter and had three children, none of whom survived.
In February 2019, she said she was left stateless when Britain’s then-interior minister Sajid Javid revoked her British citizenship on national security grounds after she was found in the Syrian camp.
A UK tribunal ruled in 2020 that she was not stateless because she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent” when the decision was made, by virtue of her Bangladeshi mother.
The UK Supreme Court last year refused Begum permission to enter the UK to fight her citizenship case. She subsequently took her case to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which ruled on Wednesday.
In rejecting her appeal, Jay said that “under our constitutional settlement these sensitive issues are for the secretary of state to evaluate and not for the commission”.
There was, however, “considerable force” in Begum’s arguments, he said.
Jay added that Javid’s conclusion that she had travelled voluntarily to Syria was “as stark as it is unsympathetic.”
“Further, there is some merit in the argument that those advising the secretary of state see this as a black and white issue, when many would say that there are shades of grey,” he added.
Gareth Peirce and Daniel Furner, lawyers representing Begum, said the ruling meant “there is now no protection for a British child trafficked out of the UK”.
They added that “every possible avenue to challenge this decision will be urgently pursued”.
The interior ministry said it was “pleased that the court has found in favour of the government’s position”.
Begum could now appeal the decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in the Court of Appeal.
The 23-year-old is one of hundreds of Europeans whose fate has challenged governments following the 2019 collapse of the Islamist extremists’ self-styled caliphate.
Lawyer Samantha Knights, representing Begum, told the five-day SIAC hearing last November that her client had been “influenced” along with her friends by a “determined and effective” IS group “propaganda machine”.
There was “overwhelming” evidence she had been “recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ to an adult male”, she added in written submissions.
James Eadie, representing the government, said Javid had “properly considered” all the factors before making his decision. The case was about “national security”, not trafficking, he argued.
Amnesty International called the ruling “very disappointing”.
“The power to banish a citizen like this simply shouldn’t exist in the modern world,” said Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director Steve Valdez-Symonds.
“Shamima Begum had lived all her life in the UK right up to the point she was lured to Syria as an impressionable 15-year-old,” he added.
MP David Davis of the ruling Conservative Party and a former government minister said the situation was a “shameful abdication of responsibility and must be remedied”.
“We’re talking here about a teenage girl who was groomed online and trafficked, and she’s far from the only one in this situation.”
The UK government successfully argued that under Bangladeshi law, a UK national born to a Bangladeshi parent is automatically a Bangladeshi citizen, but Dhaka said that was not the case for Begum.
Begum’s apparent lack of remorse in initial interviews drew outrage, but she has since expressed regret for her actions and sympathy for IS victims.
In a documentary last year, she said that on arrival in Syria she quickly realised that IS was “trapping people” to boost the caliphate’s numbers and “look good”.
Some 900 people are estimated to have travelled from Britain to Syria and Iraq to join IS. Of those, around 150 are believed to have been stripped of their citizenship, according to government figures.
© 2023 AFP