Daesh bride loses appeal over citizenship removal

The UK took away Shamima Begum's citizenship on national security grounds in 2019, shortly after she was found in a detention camp in Syria.

By Reuters

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Published: Wed 22 Feb 2023, 7:04 PM


British-born woman, who went to Syria as a schoolgirl to join Daesh, lost her latest appeal against the removal of her British citizenship, but her lawyers vowed to keep fighting and said the case was "nowhere near over".

The British government took away Shamima Begum's citizenship on national security grounds in 2019, shortly after she was found in a detention camp in Syria.

Her latest appeal against that decision was dismissed on Wednesday by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission – a specialist tribunal which hears appeals against decisions to remove citizenship on national security grounds – on Wednesday.

Speaking outside court, her lawyer Daniel Furner told reporters: "We will be challenging the decision".

A spokesperson for Britain's interior ministry, the Home Office, welcomed the ruling.

"The government's priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK and we will robustly defend any decision made in doing so," the spokesperson added.

Begum, who is currently being held in the al-Roj detention camp in north-eastern Syria, argued that the Home Office failed to investigate whether she was a "child victim of trafficking".

Judge Robert Jay found there was a "credible suspicion" that Begum was trafficked to Syria for the purposes of "sexual exploitation".

He also said there were arguably "state failures" in relation to Begum's journey from London to Syria via Turkey in 2015.

But the judge ruled that a finding that Begum may have been trafficked was not enough for her appeal to succeed.

Begum's lawyers had also argued that her entry into Syria was "facilitated by a Canadian agent" working for Daesh – an allegation which first emerged in 2015.

The British government, which argued that assistance with travel was typical for many of those who went to Syria, said the agent had "played no role in encouraging Ms Begum to travel", according to the tribunal's ruling.

But Jay said it was a "sensible inference" that any people who helped Begum and her friends travel to Syria were also encouraging them to make the journey.

Government lawyers argued that Begum had aligned with the Daesh group and stayed in Daesh-held territory for four years until the collapse of the so-called caliphate in 2019.

A British intelligence officer gave evidence that it was “inconceivable” someone travelling to Syria in 2015 “would not know what (IS) was doing as a terrorist organisation.”

Jay said in his ruling that the tribunal was concerned by the British domestic intelligence service MI5's "apparent downplaying of the significance of radicalisation and grooming."

"History, and sadly the present, is replete with examples of dictatorships attempting to manipulate their subject populations with propaganda and the like," he added. "It is commonplace that they succeed."

Jay said "reasonable people will profoundly disagree" with the Home Office's decision, but that it "raises wider societal and political questions" which were not for the tribunal.

Begum's case has been the subject of a heated debate in Britain in recent years, between those who argue she willingly joined a terrorist group and others who emphasize she was a child when she left, or say she should face justice for any alleged crimes in Britain.

She left London in 2015 aged 15 and travelled with two school friends to Syria, where she married an Daesh fighter and gave birth to three children, all of whom died as infants.

Begum, now 23, has been in the al-Roj camp since 2019, where thousands of foreign women and children remain.

Maya Foa, director of campaign group Reprieve, said in a statement that Britain's policy of revoking citizenship "remains unsustainable and badly out of step with security partners like the US".

"Britain is the only G20 country that strips citizenship in bulk and the last of our allies refusing to repatriate its nationals from north-east Syria," she added.

Repatriations of foreign women and children affiliated to Daesh from camps in north-east Syria hit a record high of more than 500 in 2022, Kurdish authorities said in November.

Britain has repatriated 11 individuals since 2019, according to figures compiled by human rights organisation Rights and Security International.

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