NEWS
26/02/2021 09:56 GMT | Updated 26/02/2021 12:43 GMT

Shamima Begum Loses Bid To Return To UK In Attempt To Fight For Citizenship

Begum was one of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria to join so-called Islamic State (IS) in February 2015.

Shamima Begum has lost an appeal at the Supreme Court to return to the UK to challenge the removal of her British citizenship.

Announcing the decision on Friday, Lord Reed said: “The Supreme Court unanimously allows all of the Home Secretary’s appeals and dismisses Ms Begum’s cross-appeal.”

Sajid Javid, who as home secretary at the time took the decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship on national security grounds, welcomed the ruling.

He said: “The Home Secretary is responsible for the security of our citizens and borders, and therefore should have the power to decide whether anyone posing a serious threat to that security can enter our country.

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Shamima Begum

“There are no simple solutions to this situation but any restrictions of rights and freedoms faced by this individual are a direct consequence of the extreme actions that she and others have taken, in violation of government guidance and common morality.”

Downing Street said it was “pleased” with the decision. When pressed on Conservative MPs’ concerns the decision created a security risk for the UK, a spokesperson said the government would not comment on individual cases.

Begum, then 15, was one of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria to join so-called Islamic State (IS) 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, prompting Javid to revoke her citizenship later that month. Begum is one of 150 individuals who have had their citizenship revoked on the grounds of national security, so if it is restored it could have huge repercussions for the government. 

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.

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15-year-old Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Shamima Begum, 15, at Gatwick airport in February 2015.

In February 2019, SIAC ruled the decision to revoke Begum’s British citizenship did not render her stateless and was therefore lawful, as she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent” at the time of the decision.

A decision to revoke someone’s British citizenship is lawful only if an individual is entitled to citizenship of another country.

Speaking on Friday, Lord Reed said: “The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public.

“If a vital public interest makes it impossible for a case to be fairly heard then the courts cannot ordinarily hear it.

“The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation hearing to be stayed – or postponed – until Ms Begum is in a position to play an effective part in it without the safety of the public being compromised.

“That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible.

“But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.”

At the hearing last November, Begum’s lawyers said she was currently in the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, where conditions are “dire”.

Lord Pannick QC told the court that the Syrian Democratic Forces, which control the al-Roj camp, “do not permit visits from lawyers nor do they permit detainees to speak to lawyers”.

He said the case against Begum was “no more than that she travelled to Syria and ‘aligned with IS’”, and that “it is not alleged that she fought, trained or participated in any terrorist activities, nor that she had any role within IS”.

Lord Pannick added that if Begum could not return to the UK to pursue an effective appeal “the deprivation appeal must be allowed”, as there is “no other fair or just step that can be taken”.

Sir James Eadie QC, representing the Home Office, told the court: “If you force the Secretary of State to facilitate a return to the UK, or if you allow the substantive appeal, the effect is to create potentially very serious national security concerns.”

He said of Begum: “She married an IS fighter, lived in Raqqa, the capital of the self-declared caliphate, and remained with them for about four years until 2019, when she left from, in effect, the last pocket of IS territory in Baghuz.”

Sir James argued that individuals who went to Syria to join IS pose a “real and serious” risk to national security “whatever sympathy might be generated by the age of the person when they travelled”.

Begum, and Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, then 16 and 15 respectively, boarded a flight from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, on February 17 2015, before making their way to Raqqa in Syria.

The three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy left London shortly after Sharmeena Begum, who is no relation, travelled to Syria in December 2014.

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

She told The Times in February 2019 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 in the al-Roj camp in March 2019, shortly after he was born.