Secret court rules against Shamima Begum in her citizenship appeal

Shamima Begum

Shamima Begum has lost the first stage of her appeal against the government’s decision to strip her of her British citizenship.

Ms Begum, now 20, left London in 2015 aged 15 to join ISIS. She was found in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.

Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her UK citizenship later that month.

But a London tribunal today ruled that Ms Begum could be stripped of her nationality because she had not been left stateless.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a semi-secret court which hears national security cases, said she could instead turn to Bangladesh for citizenship.

Under international law, it is illegal to deprive nationals of citizenship if to do so would leave them stateless.

Rejecting the 20-year-old’s case that she had been left stateless, the Commission concluded that Ms Begum was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent.”

Judge Doron Blum said that although there were concerns about how Ms Begum (who is in Syria) could take part in the proceedings in London, those difficulties did not mean the Home Secretary’s decision should be overturned.

“[Ms Begum] left the UK apparently of her own free will some years before the decision – and she was not outside the UK as a result of the decision.”

Ms Begum is understood to have a claim to Bangladeshi nationality through her mother. However, in February 2019 Bangladesh’s ministry of foreign affairs said Ms Begum was not a Bangladeshi citizen and there was “no question” of her being allowed into the country.

Ms Begum’s lawyer, Daniel Furner, said his client would “immediately initiate an appeal” against the decision “as a matter of exceptional urgency.” He added that the dangers Ms Begum faced had now increased and “her chance of survival [was] even more precariously balanced than before.”

At present, she remains in Camp Roj, a refugee camp in northern Syria. The Commission also ruled that Mr Javid had not exposed Ms Begum to human rights abuses by leaving her in the camp.

The Home Office welcomed the ruling, adding that “it would be inappropriate to comment further whilst legal proceedings are ongoing.”

The case will now move on to consider whether the government had legitimate national security grounds to bar Ms Begum from coming back to the UK.

At a hearing in October last year, Ms Begum’s lawyers said she had only professed sympathy for the ISIS in media interviews to protect herself and her newborn son, who later died in the refugee camp.

Ms Begum left Bethnal Green, in east London, for Syria in February 2015 with two school friends.

Within days she had crossed the Turkish border and eventually reached the ISIS headquarters at Raqqa, where she married a Dutch convert recruit. They had three children – all of whom have since died.

Some analysts have expressed concern that the decision could mean that any British citizen who have parents who were born abroad could be vulnerable to having their nationality stripped.

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