Shamima Begum was 15 when she left Britain to join Syria and the Islamic State (IS) group. Today in a Syrian refugee camp, she is challenging her forfeiture of British citizenship, which was decided by London in 2019, preventing her from being repatriated. A hearing will be held on Monday to examine the legitimacy of this decision.
This English teenager’s journey joins that of hundreds of other young people who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State “caliphate”, but her case had particularly shaped public opinion given her young age at the time of her departure. Shamima Begum left the east London neighborhood where they grew up with two friends in 2015. In Syria, she married an ISIS jihadist of Dutch origin, eight years her senior, and had two children who died in infancy.
After fleeing the fighting, the young woman found herself in a refugee camp in February 2019. Pregnant with a child who will die shortly after birth, sparking criticism of the British government, she had expressed a desire to return to the UK, but London had stripped her of her nationality citing national security.
His family challenged the decision and their appeal will be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) on Monday.
By early 2020, she had lost a first round of this appeal, with SIAC ruling that the decision did not make Shamima stateless because she was Bangladeshi by her parents. But Dhaka refused to accept her because she had never applied for Bangladeshi citizenship.
In particular, at stake in this new hearing is whether the government had legitimate national security reasons to prevent Shamima Begum, now 22, from returning to the UK.
“I know that I have done nothing but be a mother and a wife”
Last year, Shamima Begum asked Britain to let her in to explain herself. “I know that I have done nothing in (the organization) Islamic State except to be a mother and a wife,” the young woman said on the ITV channel. “The only crime I committed was being stupid enough to join ISIS,” she added, filmed without a veil and wearing a tank top.
But Shamima had also sparked outrage the previous year in an interview in which she expressed no regrets about joining IS. This time she wore a black veil that fell to her feet.
Monday’s hearing is expected to focus on whether Shamima Begum can “be considered a victim of human trafficking” and whether “the Home Secretary (then Sajid Javid) considered this aspect when he made his decision to strip her of her nationality”, explained Tasnime Akunjee, the family lawyer. He relies on press revelations from August, according to which the girl was able to enter Syria thanks to a smuggler who also passed information to Canada.
“Shamima Begum was indoctrinated online as a child and taken to Syria by a Canadian spy. She should be protected as a teenage victim of human trafficking would be in any other context,” defends Maya Foa, director of the NGO Reprieve.
Asked on Sky News on Monday morning, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick declined to comment directly on the matter. “There are situations where people do things or make decisions that are so against the interests of Britain that it is right for the Home Secretary to have the power to take their passports,” he simply defended.