Shamima Begum, now 20, was one of three schoolgirls who left London to join the Islamic State group in Syria in 2015. Her citizenship was revoked by the Home Office after she was found in a refugee camp in 2019. Today, the Court of Appeal said Begum had been denied a fair hearing because she could not make her case from the Syrian camp. This means that Begum will be allowed to return to the UK to fight for her citizenship. Responding to this news, the Home Office said the decision was “very disappointing” and that it would “apply for permission to appeal.”
Born in the UK to parents of Bangladeshi heritage, Begum was 15 when she left the country in February 2015 and travelled via Turkey to Islamic State headquarters in Raqqa. Once there, she married a Dutch recruit.
Now 20, Begum lived under IS rule for more than three years. In February 2019, she was found nine months pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp. Her baby later died of pneumonia and Begum revealed she had previously lost two other children.
One of the other girls who travelled with Begum, Kadiza Sultana, was reportedly killed in a bombing raid, while the fate of the third girl, Amira Abase, remains unknown.
After she was found, the then home secretary Sajid Javid cancelled Begum’s British citizenship on security grounds. This decision can be appealed in court, which Begum did. Today, the Court of Appeal ruled that she should be allowed to return to the UK to make her case.
In the UK, someone can have their citizenship taken away by the home secretary, for the following reasons: “for the public good” and would not make them stateless, the person obtained citizenship through fraud, their actions could harm UK interests and they can claim citizenship elsewhere. Begum was stripped of her citizenship for the public good reason.
In February, a tribunal ruled that removing Begum’s citizenship was lawful because she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent.”
Begum’s solicitor Daniel Furner explained she had never had a fair opportunity to give her side of the story. “She is not afraid of facing British justice, she welcomes it. But the stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice, it is the opposite,” said Furner.
Begum’s father Ahmed Ali told the BBC he was “delighted” by the ruling, and hoped his daughter would get justice. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said that the decisions the government had made about Begum had not been “taken lightly.”
While Begum is not yet on a flight to bring her home, she will be allowed back to make her case. This means that the government has a few weeks to convince the Supreme Court to review the case before it needs to urgently send a plane to pick her up—this could be a complicated process.
This case is bound to drag on, especially now that the Court of Appeal also ruled that the ongoing risk to Begum’s life has not yet been properly considered. Previously, Begum’s legal team had challenged the move by stating that it was unlawful because it left her stateless, it exposed her to a risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment, and she could not effectively challenge the decision while she was barred from returning to the UK.
For now, Begum will have to wait before returning to the UK.