Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to UK to fight for citizenship, court rules

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  • July 16, 2020
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Schoolgirl Shamima Begum should be given permission to return to the UK, senior judges have ruled.

They say Ms Begum, who travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State group (Isis), should be allowed to return so she can challenge the deprivation of her British citizenship.

Now 20, she is one of three east London schoolgirls who left the country in February 2015 and lived under Isis rule for three years.

She was then found nine months pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp in February last year. The home secretary at the time, Sajid Javid, later revoked her British citizenship on national security grounds.

Ms Begum took legal action against the Home Office, claiming the decision was unlawful because it left her stateless and exposed her to the risk of death, or inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) – a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone’s British citizenship on national security grounds – ruled the decision was lawful in February as Ms Begum was ‘a citizen of Bangladesh by descent’ at the time.

The tribunal also found she ‘cannot play any meaningful part in her appeal and that, to that extent, the appeal will not be fair and effective’, but ruled ‘it does not follow that her appeal succeeds’.

Ms Begum’s challenge to the Home Office’s decision to refuse to allow her to enter the UK to effectively pursue her appeal was also rejected.

The Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that ‘the only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal’.

Lord Justice Flaux – sitting with Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Singh – said: ‘Fairness and justice must, on the facts of this case, outweigh the national security concerns, so that the leave to enter appeals should be allowed.’

The judge found ‘the national security concerns about her could be addressed and managed if she returns to the United Kingdom’.

In its ruling, the court said: ‘If the security service and the director of public prosecutions consider that the evidence and public interest tests for a prosecution for terrorist offences are met, she could be arrested and charged upon her arrival in the United Kingdom and remanded in custody pending trial.’

Lord Justice Flaux also said: ‘With due respect to SIAC, it is unthinkable that, having concluded that Ms Begum could not take any meaningful part in her appeal so that it could not be fair and effective, she should have to continue with her appeal nonetheless.’

He added: ‘It is difficult to conceive of any case where a court or tribunal has said we cannot hold a fair trial, but we are going to go on anyway.’

Maya Foa, director of not-for-profit organisation Reprieve, which is calling for all Brits held in camps in north east Syria to be repatriated to the UK, said after the ruling: ‘It was always unsafe and unjust to make Brits in Syria someone else’s problem.

‘The Government must urgently revisit its policy and repatriate the tiny number of remaining British families, to face British justice wherever there are charges to answer.’

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation, said the ruling was the ‘right decision and British citizens should welcome it’.

He added: ‘This is not about any alleged crimes she may have committed but about the principle you cannot have a two-tier citizenship where those of a certain ethnic background born in this country are treated differently to their white counterparts.

‘Shamima Begum should be held to account for any crimes she may have committed but what cannot and should not happen is for politicians to make decisions in their own political interests to appear as if they are tough.

‘This is a great victory for all those that believe in an equal society and oppose discrimination in applying citizenship rules.

‘I hope she returns to the UK and is held to account for her alleged crimes like any other British citizen.’

Ms Begum was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families to join Isis, shortly after Sharmeena Begum – who is no relation – travelled to Syria in December 2014.

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

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

She told The Times last February 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 shortly after he was born.

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