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Shamima Begum, who fled UK to join ISIS, loses appeal to regain British citizenship

Shamima Begum fled the UK to join the ISIS in 2015 when she was 15, married a Dutch member of the group and all three of her children have died. The UK government maintained she could seek a Bangladeshi passport but her family has argued that she is a British citizen.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee London Updated on: February 23, 2024 18:17 IST
UK, Shamima Begum case, UK citizenship
Image Source : AP (FILE) Shamima Begum travelled to Syria as a teenager to join the Islamic State group.

London: Shamima Begum, the Bangladeshi-origin London-born woman, who fled the United Kingdom as a teenager to join the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group, lost another legal bid to regain her British citizenship and return to the UK. The Court of Appeal rejected her appeal, agreeing with the Special Immigration Appeals Commission's (SIAC) decision in February last year.

“Ms Begum may well have been influenced and manipulated by others but still have made a calculated decision to travel to Syria and align with ISIL [ISIS],” said Judge Dame Sue Carr, delivering the verdict in London. Previously in 2022, the UK Supreme Court upheld the decision to bar the now 24-year-old from returning to the UK. After a series of legal battles, Begum lost a challenge at the special tribunal last year.

Begum, who is in a refugee camp in northern Syria, was represented at her appeal by barrister Samantha Knights who had argued that the government had failed to consider legal duties owed to a potential victim of trafficking. The UK Home Office stressed that the main focus of the case was around national security.

According to BBC News, the chief justice has said it could be argued the decision in Begum's case is "harsh" and it could be argued Begum is "the author of her own misfortune". "Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation decision was unlawful. We have concluded it was not, and the appeal is dismissed," she added.

What did 'ISIS bride' Shamima Begum do?

Begum, referred to as an ISIS bride for marrying a Dutch member of the terror network in Syria, gave birth to three children – all of whom later died. She and two fellow teenage schoolgirls at Bethnal Green Academy travelled from east London to Syria in 2015, when they were 15. Her lawyers argue that she was “recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ to an adult male.”

However, the tribunal ultimately concluded in February 2023 that the Home Secretary was not formally required to consider whether Begum was a victim of trafficking when he removed her citizenship. Begum claims the only law she broke was to travel to Syria and had not participated in any ISIS atrocities.

The British government has maintained Begum could seek a Bangladeshi passport given her heritage but her family has argued that she is British and has never held Bangladeshi citizenship. The Court of Appeal judgement says that the home secretary was entitled to reach the decision that she was dangerous - even if there had been evidence of trafficking.

Last year, the specialist tribunal had accepted then Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s conclusion that revoking her British citizenship was “an integral part of the overall national security assessment carried out by the Security Service” and therefore not a matter for the court.

What happens now?

Reprieve, the legal action non-governmental organisation representing Shamima Begum, said that Friday's decision was not the end of the line. "I am sure she will be disappointed by this, but will know this won't be the end of the line as I am assuming there will be an appeal," it said.

Shamima Begum's lawyer Daniel Furner promised that they are  "not going to stop fighting until she does get justice and until she is safely back home". Begum's side could now ask the Supreme Court to get involved - a process that could take another year and might be handled by another government.

(with PTI inputs)

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