Shamima Begum loses bid to regain British citizenship

Amnesty International has criticised the ruling which followed a five-day hearing in November.

Jess Glass
Wednesday 22 February 2023 11:35 GMT
Shamima Begum has lost an appeal against revoking her British citizenship (PA)
Shamima Begum has lost an appeal against revoking her British citizenship (PA) (PA Archive)

Shamima Begum has failed in her legal bid to challenge the decision to deprive her of her British citizenship.

Ms Begum was 15 years old when she travelled from Bethnal Green, east London, through Turkey and into territory controlled by the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Her British citizenship was revoked shortly after she was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.

Ms Begum, now 23, brought a challenge against the Home Office over this decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone’s British citizenship on national security grounds.

Following a five-day hearing in November, the tribunal dismissed her challenge on Wednesday.

Giving the decision of the commission, Mr Justice Jay said that the tribunal found that there was a “credible suspicion” Ms Begum had been trafficked to Syria for sexual exploitation, “to which, as a child, she could not give a valid consent”.

“In the commission’s opinion, there is a credible suspicion that Ms Begum was recruited, transferred and then harboured for the purpose of sexual exploitation,” he continued in the ruling.

However, the specialist tribunal ruled that a finding that Ms Begum had been trafficked did not prevent the then-home secretary from removing her citizenship.

Mr Justice Jay also said in a summary of the commission’s decision that the existence of this suspicion was “insufficient” for her to succeed on her arguments that the deprivation of her British citizenship failed to respect her human rights, adding that given she was now in Syria, the Home Secretary was not compelled to facilitate her return nor stopped from using “deprivation powers”.

He continued in a 76-page public judgment: “This Secretary of State … maintains that national security is a weighty factor and that it would take a very strong countervailing case to outweigh it.

“Reasonable people will profoundly disagree with the Secretary of State, but that raises wider societal and political questions which it is not the role of this commission to address.”

During the hearing, Ms Begum’s lawyers previously argued that her school and the police both “missed opportunities” to prevent her travel to Syria.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Jay said: “The police, the school, the local authority, the Home Office and the Security Services have been blamed in various ways.

“In our view, putting the matter at its very lowest, there is an arguable case of failing to take reasonable preventative measures directed against the police, the school and the local authority.

“The case against the Home Office is less clear-cut; the case against the Security Services appears thin.”

Wednesday’s decision has been welcomed by the Home Office and former home secretary Sajid Javid.

A department spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the court has found in favour of the Government’s position in this case.

“The Government’s priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK and we will robustly defend any decision made in doing so.”

Mr Javid, who made the decision to strip Ms Begum of her British citizenship, said: “I welcome today’s court ruling, which has again upheld my decision to remove an individual’s citizenship on national security grounds.

“This is a complex case but home secretaries should have the power to prevent anyone entering our country who is assessed to pose a threat to it.”

The power to banish a citizen like this simply shouldn't exist in the modern world, not least when we're talking about a person who was seriously exploited as a child

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International

Amnesty International has criticised the ruling.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, the charity’s UK refugee and migrant rights director, said: “This is a very disappointing decision.”

He continued: “The power to banish a citizen like this simply shouldn’t exist in the modern world, not least when we’re talking about a person who was seriously exploited as a child.

“Just as other nations have done, the UK should be helping any of its citizens stranded in Syria – including by assisting in their safe return to the UK, whether or not that means facing possible criminal investigation or prosecution.”

Lawyers acting on behalf of Ms Begum said Wednesday’s ruling has left “no protection for a British child trafficked out of the UK”.

In a statement Gareth Pierce and Daniel Furner, from Birnberg Pierce Solicitors, said: “The outcome is that there is now no protection for a British child trafficked out of the UK if the home secretary invokes national security.

“Regrettably, this is a lost opportunity to put into reverse a profound mistake and a continuing injustice.

“Ms Begum remains in unlawful, arbitrary and indefinite detention without trial in a Syrian camp. Every possible avenue to challenge this decision will be urgently pursued.”

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